Freshman Gene Zeigler earned a spot in the starting lineup for the South Carolina’s men’s golf team’s season-opening tournament — only to see heavy rains Monday force cancellation of the Scenic City Collegiate near Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“He was so pumped up to play and warmed up four or five times (between rain showers) before they called the tournament off. We jumped back in the van and headed back to Columbia,” coach Bill McDonald said, and laughed. “I told him: ‘Welcome to college golf, Gene.’ ”
Although his debut must wait a week, Zeigler joins a posse of teammates who will be striving to fill holes behind senior All-American Ryan Hall.
Like the message from an old American Express commercial, the Gamecocks, McDonald said, “don’t leave home without Hall.”
Junior Jack Wall returns to the starting lineup, but he’s nursing a wrist injury. Senior transfer Evans Lewis, a Sumter native who made Division II All-American playing at North Greenville last season, “has been impressive,” McDonald said.
Zeigler, who reached the Round of 16 in the U.S. Junior Amateur this summer, and sophomore Rafe Reynolds earned starting spots in team qualifying for the first tournaments. McDonald, beginning his 16th season at Carolina, expects junior Nick Mayfield, sophomore Liam Shinn and freshman Nathan Franks to challenge for playing time, too.
The development process starts Monday in the J.T. Poston Invitational in Sapphire, North Carolina. Officials allowed USC to bring extra players to compete as individuals, and one will be in the lineup if Wall cannot play.
In a season complicated by coronavirus restrictions, Hall won two individual titles, including the Albuquerque Regional in the NCAA tournament, and his 69.97 scoring average is the lowest for a season in school history.
Otherwise, the 2020-21 Gamecocks struggled for consistency, and finding players to complement Hall will be McDonald’s mission in the fall.
“I feel good about the possibilities,” McDonald said. “I can see how the younger players improved over the summer, and we want to keep that going. Having Ryan to lead is an obvious plus; he’s an anchor at the top of the lineup and I’m surprised if he doesn’t play well.”
Hall, from Knoxville, Tennessee, begins the season ranked No. 15 in the world amateur golf rankings and No. 3 in the PGA Tour’s university rankings. His summer included a ninth-place finish in the Southern Amateur, an 11th in the Sunnehanna Amateur and berths in the PGA Tour’s 3M Championship and the U.S. Amateur.
“He reminds me of Matt NeSmith,” the USC All-American and current PGA Tour player, McDonald said. “He has developed his game so that he can compensate on an off day. If he’s struggling off the tee, he can make it up with his short game. He has a great future.”
But Hall needs help, and fall tournaments provide the opportunity. After the Poston event Monday and Tuesday, Carolina will have a busy October with the SEC Match-Play, the Isleworth Collegiate and the Daniel Island Invitational.
“We want to find out how players react in different situations and be prepared for the spring” that leads to the NCAA Championship, McDonald said.
To compensate for the Scenic City cancellation, McDonald has added a to-be-announced tournament to the spring schedule.
“Last year was different in a lot of ways,” McDonald said. “We played mostly against the same teams (other SEC squads), we had more players (due to an extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA after the pandemic ended the 2020 springs season early) and we had all the safety protocols.
“Looking ahead, we have a lot of positives going for us. We just have to put the pieces together, and we have the players to do that.”
A week late — thanks to Monday’s rain in Tennessee — the process begins.
Chip shots. Rachel Wyatt (Charleston) edged Lea Venable (Simpsonville) 2 and 1 to win the WSCGA’s Walton Horton and Jeanne Campbell State Match-Play Championship at Blackmoor GC in Murrells Inlet. ... Kurt Waldthausen (Simpsonville) won the SCGA’s 40-Plus Series tourney at Wachesaw Plantation in Murrells Inlet. ... At Camden CC, Ethan Paschal (Fayetteville, North Carolina) captured the Jimmy Creed Boys’ Invitational.