JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Feb. 26, 2005) -- The East Tennessee State University men's golf team will begin its quest to return to the top of the Southern Conference and the top of the national polls on Sunday, when they tee off in San Juan, Puerto Rico at the Puerto Rico Classic. The three-round, three-day event will wrap up on Tuesday, March 1.
Bolstered by one of its most successful fall campaigns in several seasons, a quiet optimism permeates the East Tennessee State University men's golf team as it enters the 2005 spring schedule.
Sporting a lineup that features one of the top players in all of college golf in sophomore Rhys Davies (Bridgend, Wales), a solid veteran player in senior Cennydd Mills (Cardiff, Wales), a vastly improved player in sophomore Stephen Arnold (Langhorne, Pa.), as well as a pair of talented young Irish players in Cian McNamara (Limerick, Ireland) and Gareth Shaw (Lisburn, Northern Ireland), longtime head coach Fred Warren enters his 19th season with sights set on a Southern Conference record 12th title.
After progressively improving throughout the fall, the Bucs showed their potential to compete against one of the most competitive fields in college golf by finishing fourth at the Carpet Capital Collegiate in Dalton, Ga., beating programs such as Clemson, Auburn, Duke, TCU and Florida. That weekend, Davies also stood out, capturing the first individual tournament title at ETSU since the 2000 season, and capping a three-tournament run that saw him finish no worse than third.
In fact, since coming to Johnson City in the fall of 2003, Davies has consistently made headlines and is fast becoming one of the all-time greats in ETSU's storied golf history. Finishing the fall season ranked fourth in the nation with a 70.5 stroke average, his resume is highlighted by five sub-70 rounds - including a school record single round of 64 at the Coca-Cola Tournament of Champions - a 25th-place finish at the 2004 World Amateur Championships in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and winning three out of four potential points in the European team's victory over the Americans in the 2004 Palmer Cup.
While Davies is the most widely-known and highly-touted Buccaneer player, Mills brings four years of collegiate experience to the roster and is one of the team's most consistent performers, finishing third on the team with a stroke average of 74.6 during the fall. In the mix with Mills will most likely be McNamara and Shaw, with senior Jeremy Hobson (Thonotosassa, Fla.), Arnold and junior Noel Kavanagh (Westport, Ireland) trying to qualify for the team's top five.
McNamara and Shaw paid early dividends for the Bucs during the fall season. McNamara - who prior to ETSU won the 2002 Junior British Open and Irish Boys Championships - finished second on the team with a stroke average of 74.4 in the fall, with a low round of 71 and his best finish of the year with a 21st-place finish at the Coca-Cola Tournament of Champions. Meanwhile, Shaw - who was a member of the 2002 and 2003 Great Britain and Ireland Boys Teams - played in all four of ETSU's fall tournaments, finished fifth on the team with a stroke average of 75.0, and fired a low round of 69 on the way to a 14th-place finish at the Coca-Cola Tournament of Championships.
Arnold, whose freshman season got off to an inauspicious start with a wrist injury, has certainly rebounded in his sophomore campaign. Finishing fourth on the team with a stroke average of 74.7 during the fall, he enjoyed a low round of 71 in the Carpet Capital Collegiate and had a Top 20 finish at the Franklin Street Partners Invitational. Arnold finished tied for second on the team a year ago with a 75.3 stroke average.
As has been the case throughout Warren's tenure at ETSU, the spring schedule will match the Bucs against some of the toughest fields in all of college golf. The spring campaign will begin with the Puerto Rico Classic (Feb. 27-March 1), followed by events such as the Augusta State Classic (April 2-3) and The Intercollegiate (April 8-9). The Southern Conference Tournament is scheduled for April 17-19 in Charlotte, N.C.