The LSU men’s golf team has the honors.
For the first time in the program’s history, LSU will host an NCAA men’s regional, set for May 16-18 at the University Club.
Now the Tigers have to earn the right to get to be players on their home course and not just be in the gallery.
LSU is off to the right kind of start this season.
The Tigers won a pair of fall tournaments — the Shoal Creek Intercollegiate in Birmingham, Ala., and their own David Toms Intercollegiate at the University Club — and finished second in their spring opener at the Mobile Bay Intercollegiate last week.
LSU goes into the John Hayt Invitational on Sunday in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., ranked No. 12 in the country.
“We’re looking forward to see how our young guys do,” LSU men’s golf coach Chuck Winstead said. “We haven’t done anything so far that has surprised me, good or bad. I think we’re a pretty talented team, but we have a lot to learn and improve upon.”
The University Club, home of LSU’s men’s and women’s golf teams, underwent a major renovation several years ago for the expressed purpose of attracting NCAA tournaments, Winstead said. LSU women’s coach Karen Bahnsen hopes to bid for an NCAA championship within the next couple of years.
“It’s a huge advantage,” Winstead said. “How many times has LSU played a regional at Alex Box Stadium? You can’t have the same advantage in golf, but you certainly want to be able to do it when the chance comes. If it’s once every 10 years, you certainly don’t want to be turned down because of your facility.”
The Tigers have a strong trio at the top of their lineup with sophomore Stewart Jolly (72.9 stroke average), junior Andrew Presley (73.1) and sophomore Curtis Thompson (73.4), older brother of LPGA teen sensation Lexi Thompson.
Jolly and Thompson tied for first at Shoal Creek during the fall while Presley finished first in the David Toms.
“We have three guys ranked in the top 50 in the nation,” Winstead said. “The recipe to be an elite program is to have four or five. We need a little more depth.
“We saw that last weekend with Smylie Kaufman finishing fifth. Somewhere along the line we need (former Jesuit golfer) Myles Lewis or (Episcopal graduate) Landon Lyons or Zach Wright continue to play well and be more top-10 players for us to advance.”
After consecutive third-place finishes in the NCAA championships, Bahnsen concedes 2012-13 is a transition year for her program.
The Lady Tigers lost 2011 NCAA individual champion Austin Ernst, who left the program unexpectedly last summer after her sophomore season, flirted with a transfer to Clemson and eventually turned pro. LSU also lost senior Tessa Teachman, who tied for third individually at NCAAs, and senior Jacqueline Hedwall.
The Lady Tigers open the spring season ranked No. 41 nationally after a four-event fall schedule that saw them finish no better than eighth. They begin the spring against a challenging field at the Tulane-hosted Allstate Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate Golf Championship, Sunday through Tuesday at English Turn Golf & Country Club in New Orleans.
“The only ones we have back with any experience are (sophomore) Madelene Sagstrom and (junior) Lindsey Gahm,” said Bahnsen, now in her 29th season. “But it’s probably one of the hardest-working teams I’ve ever had. I see great improvement — there just aren’t the expectations that other teams have had.”
Sagstrom leads the team with a pair of top-10 fall finishes and a 72.58 stroke average, followed by Gahm (one top 10, 75.61). The rest of LSU’s lineup for the Sugar Bowl tournament includes junior Ali Lucas from Crowley (a ULM transfer), Mandeville freshman Elise Bradley and freshman Nadine Dreher from Vienna, Austria.
Senior Katrina Hegge rounds out the squad.
Bahnsen, whose team will host its annual LSU Tiger Golf Classic March 22-24 at the University Club, said despite the challenges, her team’s goals remain the same as always.
“Last fall we got better every week,” she said. “We want to pick up where we left off, come out and break the winter rust off and try to get better and better. We want to peak in April and May for SECs and the (NCAA) regional and have a chance to make it to the championship.
“We can do it, but we have to play some really good golf.”