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June 26, 2012

HURT: One step left for men's golf

In a way, this has been the greatest month ever for University of Alabama men's golf.

That doesn't mean perfect. The NCAA title eluded the Crimson Tide on the final putt of the final hole of the final day of the NCAA Championships. A valuable assistant coach, Scott Limbaugh, is moving up in the coaching ranks, taking over the program at Vanderbilt. But even those developments, disappointing in their way, contain positive elements in what has certainly been a memorable few weeks for Jay Seawell's program.

"It's been an emotional roller coaster," Seawell said Monday. "But it's been nice.

"All these other coaches talk about one day at a time, or one game at a time, but golf is literally about one shot at a time."

The one shot that resonates most for Alabama was a 20-foot birdie putt by Texas' Dylan Fratelli, a shot that allowed him to edge Alabama's Corey Whitsett on the final hole of a match tied at 2-2 for the NCAA title. Despite the painful loss, Seawell says he "wouldn't change a thing" about the six-day endurance test that saw Alabama finish No. 2 nationally.

"We knew we were good," Seawell said. "Internally, we were really focused. We had a great plan. Sure, there are small things you would change, but that's nitpicking. I didn't feel like we lost. I felt like Texas won. It was two great teams and, unfortunately, they were one shot better.

"Now that it is over, I want to say how proud I am of our guys. It was grueling. You go through three days of stroke play and then go straight into the match play. Imagine in baseball, if you won a super regional and had to go straight to the College World Series without a blink, with no rest. Our guys showed great composure, great resiliency and fantastic competitiveness."

They also gave Alabama men's golf a high national profile, a fact illustrated vividly a few weeks later as UA golf alum Michael Thompson came within a single shot of forcing a playoff in the U.S. Open.

"It was so exciting to watch Michael, but one thing that stood out to me is that when they were telling his story about his transfer from Tulane and when they would talk about his coming to Alabama, they called it a 'golf powerhouse.' I had never heard that before, and it really put a positive light on our program."

Seawell thinks that positive light can continue to shine next season.

"We'll have a core of really good guys," Seawell said. "Bobby Wyatt and Corey will be juniors, Justin Thomas will be a sophomore, and I think the way Scott Strohmeyer developed really helped our team," Seawell said. "He can be a leader, and that could be the biggest missing variable for us right now, someone who can lead us.

"The other part of the emotional roller coaster will be saying goodbye to Hunter Hamrick and to Scott, who has been a great assistant coach. I am so excited for Scott and (his wife) Kate, and I know they are going to do a great job for Vanderbilt."

Seawell's job, though, is at Alabama, and this year's narrow NCAA miss only fueled the fires for next year.

"It's funny, one of the last things we were doing before Scott left was signing some SEC championship flags, and I looked over at him and smiled and told him, 'This is the last one of these you're ever going to sign.' So there is still some competitiveness left in this old dog."

The past month may have been the best ever for Alabama golf, with the women winning the NCAA title and the men coming tantalizingly close. But Seawell knows there is still one step left to take.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.



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