The Panthers were welcomed into the Sun Belt last summer and will be making their first appearance in the conference championship. GSU compiled a 5-3 mark against conference foes during the regular season with most of the competition occurring at two tournaments, the Mason Rudolph Championship and the Old Waverly Championship.
The Fighting Joe Course at The Shoals was the first RTJ Trail Course to break 8,000 yards. The teams competing for the championship will play the course from just over 7,500 yards. It was named one of the top new courses by Travel & Leisure Magazine in 2004 and has hosted the Sun Belt Conference Championship in each of the last three years and four of the last five.
Head coach Joe Inman will bring freshman sensation Jonathan Grey, along with juniors Tyler Gruca and Grant Cagle and sophomores Damon Stephenson and Davin White to the championship. The team has compiled an impressive 91-59-3 record this year, including three individual wins and one runner-up finish.
“We know this could be our last event this year so we are going with one goal and only one goal in mind, win,” commented head coach Joe Inman. “We are going to leave nothing to chance. We know a win sends us back to the NCAA Regionals and if we don’t win, we are probably packing it up until next year.
“I have been really proud of how hard this team has worked the last couple of weeks. I feel as though we are peaking at the right time and if all five of our guys play the way we are capable of, on Wednesday afternoon I feel like we have a very good chance of bring a trophy back to Georgia State.
“Other than Jonathan, this team still has a bitter taste in our mouths from coming so close last year and having a championship taken away from us. No one wants that taste again.”
As members of the Colonial Athletic Association last season, the Panthers finished two strokes behind UNCW and in second place. Georgia State led during the final nine holes, lost the lead and almost came back again on the 18th before the title went to the Seahawks.
However, the Panthers did not have one of the individual favorites last year and will go to Muscle Shoals with the top-ranked golfer in the Sun Belt, Jonathan Grey. The freshman is looking to win his fourth event in just his freshman season after a runner-up finish at the Old Waverly Championship last week. A fourth win would put him at the top of an elite group of GSU golfers and give him the most wins in program history. The only other Panthers to win three events in a career are Joel Sjoholm and Mark Haastrup, both who are now playing professionally. Sjoholm was the first-ever First Team All-American in any sport in Panther history.
Gruca, who earned CAA All-Tournament honors last season after a fourth place finish in Delaware, is currently riding a streak of four straight top 25 finishes and has shot 73 or better in four of his last six rounds.
White, who is second on the team with a 73.92 scoring average, has put together six top 25 finishes this season after finishing second at the conference tournament last year and earning CAA Rookie of the Year honors.
Stephenson, who has battled an up and down year, began the season with a fifth place finish at the GSU hosted AutoTrader.com Collegiate Classic. He finished eighth at Wilmington Country Club last year and has stepped up in some of the Panthers biggest events.
Cagle will round out the line-up and finished at the time with a career-best tie for 14th at last year’s conference championship. He has lowered his scoring average by nearly a stroke this season compared to last year.
The 11-team field includes Arkansas-Little Rock, Arkansas State, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana Monroe, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, South Alabama, Troy and Western Kentucky.
With a win, Georgia State will advance to one of six NCAA Regional sites, May 16-18. If the Panthers do not take home the championship, there is still an outside shot of receiving an at-large berth into the postseason when the selections are announced.