Beginning Sunday, the VSU Blazer’s golf team will host what is undoubtedly Division II’s strongest regular season field at the treacherous track that is Kinderlou Forest.
The annual Southeastern Collegiate will take place over three days and will have major postseason implications. VSU, currently ranked No. 24 in the Golf State rankings, will likely need to perform well in order to qualify for their NCAA Regional. If not, the team will need to win the Gulf South Conference tournament, according to Coach Jared Purvis.
Before heading out to the event or checking out the tournament’s live scoring, here’s what you need to know:
Designed by PGA Tour pro Davis Love III, Kinderlou can max out at a very long 7,781 yards. With difficult tee shots, thick rough and challenges both on and around the greens, this course should serve as a great test for many of Division II’s best.
According to Purvis, it will not play at more than 7,363 yards, with the weather playing a role in where the tee boxes will be set up. Even with the possible uncertainties and lack of foreknowledge concerning the conditions, the Blazers will have a distinct advantage over the field with the course being at the team’s home club.
“I think having local knowledge will definitely give us an advantage,” Jordan Long, a sophomore, said. “I think we have a good mindset of that. We’ve been in every possible situation out on that golf course (good or bad), so we just need to be athletes and play like we know how to play out there.”
On a golf course described by senior Davis Roche as one that “provides you many birdie or bogey opportunities,” the keys to success, in my opinion, are executing off the tee, calculating when it is worth taking a gamble and being able to avoid trouble.
The Kinderlou website identifies No. 4 as its signature hole, a true par 5 that requires the navigation around an all-natural ravine. It is described as “one of the most challenging, yet beautiful, holes on the course.”
Purvis said that this is “the strongest field in the country for D2 during regular season play.” This statement is backed by the fact that the top eight teams and 11 out of the top 12 ranked teams will be participating.
No. 1, West Florida, and No. 2, Florida Southern, will both be coming off dominant victories in different tournaments this week. No. 3, Nova Southeastern, won the Saint Leo Invitational, where the Blazers last made an appearance.
No. 16, Newberry, No. 22, Lander, North Alabama, Georgia Southwestern, Flager and Georgia College will also be in the field.
A respectable finish for the Blazers against this quality competition will be significant in terms of their postseason situation.
Four out of the five Blazer players in this year’s lineup competed in last year’s event. Two of them are experienced seniors in Jake Harpe and Davis Roche. One of them, Junior Matt Anderson, was named All-GSC Second Team last season.
Long has played in so many tournaments at this point that it is easy to forget that he is still young and has a lot of golf left in his career. He will play a valuable role both down the stretch this season and in future years for the Blazers.
Harpe, while his senior season hasn’t gone as the Blazer faithful had hoped, will return to the lineup for the Southeastern. He burst onto the scene as a freshman, appearing in 10 out of 11 possible tournaments and became a mainstay in the Blazers’ lineup throughout his career.
Regardless of what has happened in 2018, those who follow this team closely know that the Griffin, Georgia native is always capable of turning in a good round. His round of 69 was the lowest posted score by a Blazer in this event last year.
Freshman Wesley Hanson
The dynamic of the team has required the services of Hanson, and since being installed into the lineup, all he has done is put up two strong performances and earn GSC Freshman of the Month honors for February.
At the Matlock Collegiate Classic, the freshman out of Macon, Georgia, posted three straight rounds of 74. In the Saint Leo Invitational, Hanson had a respectable 24th place finish.
Purvis told the Valdosta Daily Times that Hanson “is giving us some nice, solid scores right now,” and that he has been “a nice contributor.”
“Wesley is doing a great job for us this year,” Long said. “He’s done a great job at coming in as a freshman, learning and taking good advice from the older guys and playing some solid golf. Kid’s gonna have a bright future.”
According to Roche, the team is embracing the challenge that awaits the Blazers both this week and beyond.
“As a team, we’re all very excited about the opportunities that this tournament presents and are ready to see what the rest of the spring has in store for us,” he said.
For those interested in watching the game, the address for Kinderlou Forest Golf Club is 4005 Bear Lake Road. To follow the tournament from afar, live scoring and other information will be provided on both www.vstateblazers.com and golfstat.com.
Written by Bryant Roche, Staff Writer. Photo courtesy of VSU Athletics.
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