Why is LSU golf coach Chuck Winstead smiling?
His Tigers are coming off their first Southeastern Conference championship since 1987 (their fourth team title this season), his program gets mentioned constantly in national golf news thanks to the success of touring pros like John Peterson and Smylie Kaufman, and he has a stellar recruiting class arriving this fall.
And, oh yes, seventh-ranked LSU is the No. 2 seed in the NCAA New Haven regional which begins Thursday at The Course at Yale, their highest seeding in his 10 years as coach.
“It’s been a long time in the making,” Winstead said of his program’s stellar season. “I’m proud of all the guys. Smylie’s success, John, Andrew (Loupe), Curtis (Thompson) is off to a good start (on the Web.com Tour).
“And the guys on this team aren’t too bad, either.”
Winstead will go with the same five-man lineup that captured the SEC title last month at St. Simons Island, Georgia.
LSU is led by senior All-American Ben Taylor, along with All-SEC second-teamers Stewart Jolly (another senior), junior Zach Wright and sophomores Brandon Pierce and Eric Ricard.
“Their scoring average from best to worst is about a shot,” Winstead said, “which is really unheard of. They’re all solid players and have shown that for awhile now.”
A total of 14 teams will compete in New Haven, with LSU’s SEC rival Vanderbilt, ranked No. 5 nationally, holding down the top seed.
Other contenders include No. 16-ranked South Florida, perennial power Oklahoma State at No. 20 and No. 29 Arkansas.
The top five teams from six regional across the country will advance to the NCAA championships, May 29-June 3 at The Concession Golf Club in Sarasota, Florida. That same course will host the NCAA women’s championships (LSU and Tulane have already advanced) May 22-27.
The top eight teams after four rounds of stroke play will advance to match play in both championships. LSU finished second in stroke play last year and reached the match play semifinals at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kansas, before losing to eventual champion Alabama.
Southeastern Louisiana will compete in the Lubbock (Texas) regional as the No. 9 seed. Louisiana Tech golfer Victor Lange is also competing there as an individual player.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.