What kind of season will the LSU men’s golf team have this spring?
As much as anyone else, LSU director of golf Chuck Winstead is eager to find out.
A top-20 team heading into the spring slate, the Tigers are a mix of impressive veterans and still green newcomers who must try to come together as a competitive squad in the always hyper-competitive Southeastern Conference.
“We have two guys with experience and some of the others less so,” Winstead said. “We’ll take our lumps, but by the time May comes around we’ll be a good team.”
The Tigers (No. 16 per Golfstat.com) kick off the season Friday in Gainesville, Florida, in the Florida Gators Invitational, then head back home to host their LSU Invitational at The University Club, Feb. 26-28.
It will be LSU’s first tournament at its home course since the David Toms Intercollegiate in October 2018. Last season’s DT Intercollegiate was played at Southern Trace in Shreveport in October 2019. Then an NCAA regional set for last May at the U-Club was canceled like all other NCAA spring championships by the coronavirus pandemic.
After having an impressive spring 2020 schedule stopped cold by the coronavirus pandemic, any team would be enthusiastic about getting going a…
Winstead said he has been told LSU will be in line to host another regional in the next few years. Meanwhile, he expects a regional-like feel to the strength of this year’s LSU Invitational field.
“This is the strongest field we’ve had in a long time,” said Winstead, who coached LSU to the 2015 NCAA championship. “I’d be surprised if we don’t have 10 of the top-20 teams there. We’d love to have as many fans come out as possible since we are allowed to have them.”
Winstead’s son Trey and Garrett Barber are the top Tigers on this team after Philip Barbaree turned professional following the fall swing.
A former standout golfer at University High, Winstead has already taken advantage of the NCAA’s one-time coronavirus do-over policy and reclassified as a junior. The younger Winstead will graduate this year and compete in 2021-22 as a graduate student.
No. 38 in the world men’s amateur ranking, Winstead is the team’s top Tiger after completing the three-event fall season with a 71.89 stroke average. But it was fellow junior Garrett Barber who had the best fall stats, posting a superb 70.38 stroke average, the team’s low round (a 6-under par 65 in the Vanderbilt Intercollegiate) and one of their only two top-10 finishes.
“Garrett is playing really well,” Chuck Winstead said.
The rest of the lineup LSU is taking to Florida is considerably greener.
There’s sophomore Connor Gaunt, a former Arkansas Tech transfer who had the team’s other top-10 fall finish, and freshmen Nicholas Arcement of Thibodaux and Drew Doyle. Junior Michael Sanders is also making the trip and will play as an individual. Winstead said he also expects a pair of juniors — South African Chris Woollam and Hayden White of Benton — to compete for starts this spring.
“I think a lot of guys at the bottom of our lineup are going to have great careers at LSU,” Winstead said. “No one remembers but (2011 NCAA individual champion) John Peterson and Andrew Loupe, guys who helped dig this program out of the dirt, they had ups and downs as freshmen.”
Aside from long drives and center cut putts, the other thing the Tigers need this spring is luck. Luck to avoid a major coronavirus outbreak or contact tracing issue that knocks LSU out of a tournament or two.
Asked how often he talks to his players about COVID-19 precautions, Winstead said: “Every day. We’ve got very responsible young men. They make good choices. The hard part is you can make good choices and you still bump into the virus.
“They’ve worked so hard, the last thing you want for them is to miss a tournament. But I’m confident in my guys.”
LSU MEN’S GOLF SCHEDULE
Friday-Sunday Florida Gators Invitational (Gainesville, Fla.)
Feb. 26-28 LSU Invitational (The University Club)
March 15-17 Tiger Invitational (Opelika, Ala.)
March 26-28 Old Waverly Collegiate (West Point, Miss.)
April 5-7 Shoal Creek Invitational (Birmingham, Ala.)
April 21-24 SEC Championships (St. Simons Island, Ga.)
May 17-19 NCAA Regional (Site TBD)
May 28-June 2 NCAA Championship (Scottsdale, Ariz.)