Most second-year college golf programs are too busy laying a foundation to concern themselves too much with results.
Jared Willerson isn’t thinking that way.
In fact, the head coach of the Georgia Northwestern Bobcats is thinking in complete opposite terms when he talks about his team’s goals for the 2014-2015 season.
“I don’t think I’m being unrealistic when I say we have a national championship contending type of team at the present moment,” he said. “We’ve been practicing and playing well and we’ve been doing the things the things necessary. When I look and see what we’re capable of doing, I don’t have any reason to be anything other than optimistic.”
While Willerson isn’t guaranteeing this Bobcats will bring home a national title, or any type of championship this season, he knows the potential for success is there.
GNTC will begin its new season with just one returning player and six newcomers, but it’s an enormously talented group that has spent countless hours on the golf course over the years and one that has already made a name for itself among the area’s golf community.
“Everyone in the golf community around here knows who these kids are,” Willerson explained. “When I go out in public, I get asked all the time about how we’re doing. We have the talent. Now it just depends on how the kids mature, how they adapt to college life and how much they can grow as players, students and individuals. We’ll see what happens.”
The lone returning veteran on the squad is former Murray County standout Drew Tankersley, who Willerson says has become “a totally different player” since last season ended.
“Drew has worked so hard on his game all summer and he’s just gotten better and better,” the coach said. “He’s changed his ball flight and his whole game has improved, especially his short game and putting. He’s been Mr. Consistent for us. I’m really proud of the work he’s put in.”
Willerson added that as the only returning player, Tankersley has taken the new Bobcats under his wing.
“He goes out on the course and shows them the type of shots that you have to hit (in college) because it’s a much different game (than high school golf),” Willerson said. “He reminds them about the slower pace of play in college and reminds them not to get in a hurry. The hardest part of college golf is just learning how to play at this level and he’s done a great job of showing them the ropes.”
The incoming Bobcats already have an impressive resume of awards and honors.
Jordan Estes (Ringgold) is a solid ball-striker with a great all-around game and a calm demeanor on the course. A three-time state qualifier, Estes won two individual region titles while playing for the Tigers.
Willerson calls Chase Cole (Dade County) an “explosive” player that can make birdies in bunches and fights and scraps for every shot on the course. Cole finished in the top four at state three times and won three individual region titles in Trenton.
Another player capable of going low is John Rollins (Trion), who was a two-time region champion and won one individual state title during his time with the Bulldogs.
Lanier Guest (Gordon Lee) helped lead the Trojans to state team championships in his final two years in Chickamauga. He is a past All-State player and was the state individual runner-up as a senior.
Keaton Stanfield (LaFayette) was a consistent player for the Ramblers, who won the region title and finished third at the state tournament in Stanfield’s senior season.
The final newcomer is Grant Allen (Heritage), who previously attended – but did not play golf – at North Georgia College in Dahlonega. A sophomore, Allen will bring some extra maturity and experience to the squad. He helped the Generals to a region runner-up finish and a trip to state as a senior.
This will be the first year that Georgia Northwestern will be eligible to compete for NJCAA post-season championships and Willerson said the team was “pretty pumped” to get the season started.
“I think the chance to win championships is a big reason why they all chose to come here,” he said. “We’ve got a chance to be really successful and we have a chance to be really successful with local kids. ‘Georgia Northwestern’ encompasses a pretty large area, but there is a lot of pride associated with those two words. This is where they are all from. We don’t have any kids in here from somewhere else or some place like Europe. These kids really want to represent this community and do something special for this community. I think that’s the most important thing for them.”
The Bobcats will have a chance to start making a name for themselves early with three fall tournaments, beginning this coming Monday and Tuesday (Sept. 8-9) in the SCAD-Atlanta Fall Invitational at The Oaks Course in Covington.
After that, the team will head to the beaches of Sea Island for the College of Coastal Georgia Fall Classic at the Davis Love III Course (Sept. 15-16) and conclude the fall campaign in Rome at the Berry College/ Chick-Fil-A Collegiate Invitational at the Coosa Country Club (Oct. 20-21).
“These fall tournaments ought to be a lot of fun,” Willerson said. “There’s going to be a lot of NAIA national contenders at the first tournament and folks like Dalton State will be at the Coastal Georgia tournament. Coastal Georgia won the NAIA national title last year so we are getting to play some top-notch competition right off the bat to see where we stand and see what we need to do to improve.”
The spring schedule will include tournaments at Wallace State in Alabama, Goose Pond Colony in Scottsboro (Ala.) and a tournament at Darton State in Georgia, which will host the NJCAA state tournament late in the season.
Most college tournaments are formatted for each team to field five players with the four lowest scores counting toward the team score. With that in mind, Willerson has a target number for all of his team’s tournaments this season.
“I’m looking for sub-300 rounds every time,” he explained. “If we break 300 every time, I’ll take that. A score of 295-300 should put us in contention most every tournament.”