Golf team receives high rank

Junior Austin Sparks tees-off at the TVA Community Credit Union Invitational Oct. 20. The team is looking forward to end as well or better than they did in the fall, said coach Jason Vaughn.

by Staff Writer Xavier Wherry

The Bushnell Golfweek Division II Coaches Poll ranked the UNA golf team No. 15 Feb. 19, giving the Lions a strong starting point to the spring portion of the 2015-16 season.

In the updated rankings, the Lions dropped one spot to No. 16 March 11.

With high expectations heading into the second half, the team hopes to end as well, if not better, than it started, said UNA golf coach Jason Vaughn.

Vaughn said he wants to focus on fundamentals and not let the high rank inflate his team’s ego.

“We don’t talk much about our rank,” he said. “The big thing I want them to focus on are the small things, such as chipping, putting and trying to find ways to improve their competitive side, especially in practice.”

Along with improving the fundamentals, Vaughn said he hopes his team will work to avoid landing the bunker.

“It’s one thing we’re going to work on,” he said. “We need to get our save percentage higher and improve on our par 5.”

The high ranking gives insight to how others think the team is doing, but does not matter much to the team itself, said junior Forrest Knight, a Division II PING second-team All-American last spring.

Knight, who had the team’s top numbers last season, had a rough start this season, he said.

“I didn’t play well (last fall),” Knight said. “I could improve on everything. Golf is 90 percent mental. I have to do better.”

The team opened the spring season at the Division II South/Southeast Regional Preview Tournament Feb. 29, finishing 12th out of 18 against the nation’s top teams. Vaughn said the Regional Preview showed the Lions team could enhance its skills on the green.

“One thing I noticed over the first tournament was we needed to improve our short game work and putting, along with par 3 and par 5 scoring,” Vaughn said.

Senior Michael Peter finished 29th place in the tournament. Junior Austin Sparks jumped off to a strong start on day one, but fell behind and finished 35th with a 231 score.

“I started off fine and played pretty well,” Sparks said. “I had a share of the lead at the halfway point and, unfortunately, fell apart after that.”

Sparks, who struggled to make events last year, said hard work has improved his game immensely.

“This year, I focused on a few swing changes,” he said. “I focused on the mental game and short game big time this offseason.”

As with any outside sport, the weather can play a factor in a team’s success. With warmer weather on the way, Vaughn said he aspires for positive results.

“With the weather we’ve had, it’s been tough to get out, but with (weather) improving week-by-week, it’s important for us to get out there and improve on some things,” he said.

Warmer weather helps a golfer hit better drives, but the golfer must be able to adapt mentally, Vaughn said.

“The ball definitely travels further in warmer weather as opposed to cooler weather,” he said. “However, a change in weather can really change how you hit the ball, so you have to mentally be strong.”

UNA’s next event is the Bobcat Invitational Tournament in Eatonton, Georgia, March 21-22. Georgia College and State University will host the tournament.