UTC Men's Golf Hopes to Atone for Last Year's Heartbreak at SoCon

  • Saturday, April 20, 2024
  • Paul Payne
Junior Garrett Engle's inspired play at the Western Intercollegiate has the Mocs ready to compete in this week's SoCon championship
Junior Garrett Engle's inspired play at the Western Intercollegiate has the Mocs ready to compete in this week's SoCon championship
photo by GoMocs.com

Lost in last year’s magical postseason run by the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s men’s golf team was a painful moment that still lingers a year later.

The Mocs seemed poised to dethrone ETSU from winning a third straight Southern Conference team title, owning a nine-shot lead headed into the final nine holes. But the Bucs roared back over those few remaining holes to claim a five-stroke win over a stunned UTC squad.

That memory will provide UTC with an added dose of focus as the 2024 SoCon Men’s Golf Championship returns to Reynolds Lake Oconee in Greensboro, Ga. this week. The 54-hole event runs Sunday-Tuesday, being played on the 7,393-yard, par 72 Oconee Course.

“When we lost last year and ETSU was celebrating, I remember all of us getting on a knee by the driving range,” UTC head coach Blaine Woodruff said. “I told our guys, ‘I want you to remember this feeling in this moment right here.’ We did a team FaceTime (Thursday) night where I brought it up again. They assured me they remember that moment and they’re hungry to write a different ending.”

The Mocs are fully battled-tested for the SoCon event, coming off last week’s Western Intercollegiate in California. The prestigious tournament staged on the challenging layout at Pasatiempo Golf Club saw UTC place ninth in the 14-team field, with the Mocs Garrett Engle finishing tied for ninth individually with a three-day even par total.

“That was such a mentally demanding golf course that I think prepares us well for what lies ahead,” Woodruff said. “I think it’s going to make the conference championship layout seem gettable. That was kind of my hope when I put the schedule together.”

Equally important is the resurgent play of Engle. The junior from Harrisburg, Pa. who transferred from Oklahoma is finding his groove at an opportune time.

“Garrett has his swag back that he had last spring,” Woodruff said. “He brings a really unique kind of feel to the lineup that rubs off on the other guys. I don’t think he’s fully aware how that swagger he brings when he's playing well instills a sense of confidence throughout the lineup.”

Joining Engle in the Mocs lineup are seniors John Houk, Paul Conroy and Samuel Espinosa along with junior Braedon Wear. Junior Dalton Chuba, who opened with a bogey-free round of 2-under at the Western tournament, will join his teammates as a substitute allowed during postseason competition.

UTC finished third in conference play so will be paired with Furman when play commences, while top-seeded ETSU will be joined by runner-up UNC Greensboro. The Mocs are ranked 42nd nationally, and Woodruff is hoping to build some momentum heading into regionals in playing for the third straight week.

“Coming off the Western and how your brain must be engaged the whole time on that golf course, I think they’re ready to go mentally even though it’s a quick turnaround,” Woodruff said. “Playing three in a row here may seem crazy, but I think the more this group plays, the better we get.”

As UTC returns to the site of last year’s disappointment, the opportunity for redemption serves as extra incentive.

“There’s a lot of motivation after last year’s finish, but it’s a new year,” Conroy said. “We can only control what we do. If we do that, we will be in a good spot at the end of the week.”

During Saturday’s practice round, Houk reflected back on the emotions felt the last time he exited the Oconee course.

“I remember it pretty clearly,” Houk said. “I sat next to the 18th green today playing back the memories of last year. I think using past experience to learn from and to fuel us will help give us an edge this week. We don’t want that feeling again.”

The Mocs will be seeking their seventh SoCon golf title, which ranks third behind ETSU’s 23 and Furman with 12. Woodruff is hoping this week he will see his squad put together three solid rounds during the tournament to remove the bitter taste from last year.

“We got off to an unbelievable start that last day, but ETSU started making some birdies,” Woodruff said. “Our guys could feel the momentum turning, and were trying to hold on. It was like we were playing to not lose.

“We’ve talked about it means to finish, not even giving them a chance to come get us. We all remember how we felt.  So hopefully that that reminder from last year will carry over a little bit into this year.”

After the completion of the conference tournament, UTC will await its placement in the NCAA Regionals scheduled for May 13-15. This year’s sites are Austin, Texas; Baton Rouge, La.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; Santa Fe, Cal.; Stanford, Cal. and West Lafayette, Ind.

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Paul Payne can be emailed at paulpayne6249@gmail.com


Garrett Engle
Garrett Engle
photo by GoMocs.com
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