SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Vanderbilt head coach Scott Limbaugh in times like these recalls a quote he read from Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Derek Jeter in which in the former short stop said the only difference between the Little League World Series and the World Series is the lights were a little brighter and the crowds were a little bigger.
That’s the approach Limbaugh’s Commodores will take starting Friday at the Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, at the NCAA Championships.
“There’s a little bit more spotlight on you, but it’s still a golf tournament,” Vanderbilt junior Reid Davenport said. “We’re going to still go there, we’re going to still play the same sport. We’re going to have fun. We’re going to lean on each other. We’re just going to take that and see how far it can go.”
Vandy has saved its best golf for the right time of year and has all the momentum going into college golf’s biggest stage.
The Dores had been trending in the right direction to end the regular season by finishing inside the top five in their last four events. Everything has clicked since then.
Vanderbilt won the SEC Championships by beating Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas, respectively, in match play and then ran away from the field in an NCAA Regional at The Golf Club of Tennessee in Kingston Springs where they won by 11 strokes.
A vital component to the squad’s success, said sophomore William Moll, is team camaraderie.
“One of the best aspects of our team is we’re kind of like a brotherhood and we have really good team chemistry,” he said. “Just being able to rely on each other and not what this person is doing and what everyone is doing, just being able to focus on your own game and trust the other guys are doing well is really helpful for us.”
Moll and Davenport will once again be part of the five-man lineup to start the tournament. That duo will be joined by freshman Cole Sherwood, sophomore Matthew Riedel and junior Michael Shears. Senior Harrison Ott will be available as a substitute.
Vanderbilt is seeded 11th overall in the 30-team field.
“I think any time you are getting to compete for an NCAA Championship it is certainly exciting and something you never want to take for granted,” Limbaugh said. “Several of our guys haven’t played in this championship before so seeing guys here for the first time is always fun for me as the coach.
“Weeks like this are the reason these kids wanted to play golf at Vanderbilt and I want them to enjoy it. Obviously, the goal of the coaching staff is to help the guys understand what it means to truly focus on the right things at the right times this week. We have to help them put blinders on. If we can do that at a high level and be tough enough to commit to our plan for the week then I think we can continue the momentum that we’ve enjoyed over the last month.”
The Tom Fazio-designed Raptor course at Grayhawk will play at a par 70 over 7,289 yards. The course unfolds over gentle hills and across shaded natural arroyos found in a picturesque corner of the Sonoran Desert.
Most of Raptor’s fairways are generous and the greens are large with sweeping undulations. Misses tend to find deep green-side bunkers and tightly mown grass collection areas making the scramble to get up and down a true test of the short game.
Vandy is scheduled to get a first-look at the course at 11:06 a.m. CT Thursday for a practice round. Its first round of the tournament is scheduled to get underway at 2:47 p.m. CT Friday with a second round tee time scheduled for 9:27 a.m. CT Saturday.
“It certainly won’t be easy and there will be tough times and mistakes will be made. We have to be able to move on and play the next shot,” Limbaugh said. “It’s about having great preparation and a great plan because that gives you the freedom to play loose and have fun.
“As you advance in this tournament all the little things are going to matter and your attention to detail is going to matter. I just love this team and I love how they represent our university and our golf program. I told them that we didn’t come this far just to come this far – let’s go have some fun and let’s do it together.”
NCAA Championships play consists of three days of stroke play after which the top 15 teams and nine individuals not on an advancing team will be determined. That is followed by a final day of 18 holes of stroke play Monday to determine the top eight teams that will advance to match play as well as the 72-hole individual champion.
The team national champion will be determined by a match-play format that will consist of quarterfinals and semifinals conducted Tuesday followed by finals Wednesday.
Live scoring can be found HERE.
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.