From Staff Reports
The quest to defend its Peach Belt Conference championship begins this weekend for the Clayton State Laker men's golf team as it competes in the prestigious Golfweek Spring Invitational at the Reunion Resort in Orlando.
Head coach Barry Harwell's Lakers start play on Sunday in the inaugural 54-hole event on the Top Watson-designed Independence course that features 18 of the nation's top Division II programs.
Joining Clayton State is fourth-ranked Chico State, fifth-ranked Barton, sixth-ranked Lynn, eighth-ranked St. Edwards, ninth-ranked Indianapolis, 13th-ranked Nova Southeastern, No. 16 Lander, No. 18 Dixie State and No. 21 Rollins. Add to that Washburn, West Florida, Carson-Newman, Central Oklahoma, Queens, Cal State-Monterey Bay, Grand Canyon and Coker, and this is one the best fields for a Division II regular season tournament.
"I cannot remember a major Division II tournament held this early in the spring," said Harwell. "This should give us a good indication about what we might look for the rest of the season within the Division II ranks. We were invited based on last season's play and we have a great deal of work to do before we are up to the level of the 2009 team.
"But we are going to Orlando and play as hard as we can."
Clayton State is coming off a 2009 fall season that consisted of two Top 10 finishes in three tournaments. The best was a tie for fifth to close out the fall season at the Indian Bayou Classic.
The Lakers are led by Division II All-American and defending Peach Belt Conference champion Wade Binfield, who averaged 73 during the fall season and is aiming to improve on those scores this spring. Senior Neil Thomas was perhaps the most consistent Laker in the fall with a 72.7 average and two Top 10 finishes.
Junior Adam Novakowski will play in the third position. He averaged a 75.2 during the fall and is one of the top hitters off the tee on the team. Harwell will fill the two remaining slots amongst sophomores Andy Bate and Clark Nelson and freshmen Michael Lee and Josh Ransby.
Bate had a breakthrough fall with a 74.5 average in two tournaments, while Lee was the most impressive of the newcomers with a 75.3.
Like a lot of programs in the area, bad weather has hampered the Lakers' preparation time and qualifying opportunities. And with a schedule like this spring, Clayton State needs the practice time.
In addition to the Golfweek Invitational, the Lakers will also play in the Matlock Invitational (which they won last season), the Southeastern Intercollegiate, the Bobcat Invitational and the new Bearcat Invitational. The 2010 Peach Belt Conference Tournament is April 11-13 at Callaway Gardens, Ga.
"Our spring season will be challenging and certainly difficult to improve on our 2008-09 performance," Harwell said. "This is perhaps the most competitive spring tournament schedule we've had at Clayton State and will give us an opportunity to play additional teams outside our conference."