CHARLESTON, S.C. –It will be a homecoming of sorts for College of Charleston senior Alex Ellis and head coach Mark McEntire as the two native Texans return home to the Lone Star State for the 2014 NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Southwest Regional Championship on May 15-17 at the par-72 Briggs Ranch Golf Club in San Antonio, Texas.
This will be the third time in Ellis’ four-year career to play collegiate golf on Texas soil – a place where he shaped his game and almost beat current PGA TOUR professional Jordan Spieth for the Class 5A state title in 2009. Ellis was a two-sport standout in basketball and golf at Westlake High School in Austin, Texas, while Spieth starred at Dallas Jesuit in Dallas, Texas. He and Stephen F. Austin’s Chase Webb of Lufkin, Texas, and Alabama’s Cory Whitsett of Houston, Texas, lost by one stroke to Spieth that year.
McEntire, who is in his ninth season with the Cougars, is also an Austin native and graduated from Anderson High School, before playing collegiate golf for the University of Texas from 1996-2000.
“We’ve had a fantastic year of golf with the highlight of winning a CAA Championship,” he said. “In the fall, we struggled a little bit as we were working on some lineup changes and getting some of our guys some experience. But from the spring on, we have played fantastic and found our core four guys and rotated that fifth in-and-out, until we found the right one that clicked. Fortunately, we picked the right guy and it clicked at the conference tournament.”
When he was hired at The College in 2005, McEntire started building the program with not only regional talent from the Carolinas, but also top Texas talent that included former players John Duke Hudson (Sonora, Texas) and Coy Breen (San Antonio, Texas), who will be reunited with their former teammates this weekend.
Ellis and Hudson are one of only four Cougars to qualify for the U.S. Amateur in program history next to 2003 Southern Conference Player of the Year Bruce McDonald and junior Zach Munroe (Charlotte, N.C.), who will also start for the Cougars in postseason tournament play.
Ellis has qualified for the U.S. Amateur twice and is looking to make it a third consecutive time at this year’s tournament at the Atlanta Athletic Club, before turning professional at the end of the summer. He also plans on going through the three stages of Web.com Tour Q-School in the Fall of 2015.
Twice named CAA Men’s Golfer of the Week and leading the Cougars to a conference title in their inaugural year as members of the Colonial Athletic Association, Ellis is the lone senior on CofC’s NCAA lineup card and the only golfer on the squad to play in all 11 tournaments of the season. For his career, he has made seven Top-10 finishes and was honored on the All-Southern Conference Team and played in the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional as an individual during his junior campaign in 2013.
He will be joined this weekend by Munroe, sophomore John Jonas (Jacksonville, Fla.), sophomore Josh Lorenzetti (Columbia, S.C.) and freshman William Rainey (Charlotte, N.C.). Jonas was tabbed 2014 CAA Men’s Golfer of the Year, while McEntire was CAA Coach of the Year. The squad is looking to make more history in their first postseason appearance in 11 years.
“It was our goal from the beginning of the year to get there as a team,” Ellis said. “Last year, Josh (Lorenzetti) and I went as individuals, but it just wasn’t the same. We are excited to go with the entire team and get things under way.”
The course will play at 7,247 yards and the 54-hole regional championship site hosted by the University of Texas, San Antonio, begins tomorrow with the opening round. The Cougars are making their fourth all-time NCAA Regionals appearance next to 2001, 2002 and 2003.
The turning point for the team’s season was back-to-back sixth-and third-place finishes respectively in high-caliber tournaments at The Schenkel hosted by Georgia Southern with six Top 50-ranked teams in the field and at The Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate with five Top 50 teams. CofC beat then-No. 10 Virginia, No. 39 Wake Forest and No. 36 Kentucky at Bulls Bay, while finishing a few strokes behind then-No. 14 UAB, No. 6 UCF, No. 10 Virginia and No. 15 Texas at the Schenkel.
“The way we played at The Hootie at Bulls Bay and The Schenkel will continue to give our guys confidence that we can play with the best teams in the country,” McEntire said. “We will definitely remind our team heading into the regionals about those two tournaments, as we finished third and sixth with chances to win a golf tournament.”
No. 6-ranked Georgia (SEC) is the top seed in a competitive 13-team regional field which also includes No. 7 UCF (American), UCLA (Pac-12), No. 19 Vanderbilt (SEC), South Florida (American), SMU (American), Georgia Southern (Southern), Georgia State (Sun Belt), TCU (Big 12), VCU (Atlantic 10) and Columbia (Ivy League).
CofC is the No. 11 seed and was last an NCAA Finalist in 2001, after finishing fourth at the NCAA Central Regional hosted by Oklahoma State at the Karsten Creek Golf Course in Stillwater, Okla. They were seeded 13th out of the 30 teams which advanced to play for the national title that same year at the Duke University Golf Club in Durham, N.C.
In their other previous NCAA Regional appearances, the Cougars finished tied for 13th at the NCAA East Regional hosted by Georgia Tech in 2002 in Roswell, Ga., and tied for 13th at the NCAA East Regional hosted by Auburn in 2003 in Auburn, Ala.
“As a freshman, it’s awesome and special to be a part of something like this – being the first team to go back to regionals since 2003,” Rainey said. “The competition we will see will be the same from our spring season and we know we can play with anyone.”
The top 5 teams and the low individual not on those teams from each of the six regional sites will then move on to the 2014 NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship hosted by Wichita State on May 23-28 at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan.
“This regional is a good region for us,” McEntire said. “The regional is unlike any other tournament, because you go into it with a goal of finishing in the Top 5 and getting it done. We are going into this tournament with some positive momentum and want to get to the NCAA Championship.”
The Cougars will be paired with Northwestern and VCU and will tee off of No. 10 in tomorrow’s opening round at 9:10 a.m. (CT) / 10:10 a.m. (ET). Live scoring for all three rounds will be available at: www.Golfstat.com.