Two weeks before the opening tournament of the 2016-17 Great American Conference men’s golf season, the league’s head coaches voted Southwestern Oklahoma State as the conference’s preseason favorite, the league announced on Tuesday.
The Bulldogs received five first-place votes to edge out the GAC’s three other NCAA participants – Arkansas Tech, Henderson State and Southeastern Oklahoma state. The Wonder Boys picked up two first place votes and finished two points in back of the Bulldogs. The Reddies, who have claimed the last three GAC Championship titles, finished third in the poll with one first-place vote. The Savage Storm, who advanced to the NCAA National Championships for the first time in program history in 2016, garnered the remaining two first-place votes and placed fourth in the balloting.
SWOSU returns three of its five golfers that participated at the GAC Championships and at the NCAA Regionals. Stefan Idstam, a three-time All-GAC and two-time All-GAC Tournament golfer returns for his senior season, as does Marques Gomez, a 2016 Honorable Mention selection. Gomez and Joby Gray shared medalist honors at the SBU Bearcat Invitational.
Arkansas Tech, off a second-place showing at the GAC Championships and its fourth-straight appearance in the NCAA Regionals, brings back a pair of First-Team All-GAC performers in Player of the Year Bryce Burke and Austin Smith. Burke registered five top-10 performances prior to taking third at the NCAA Regionals – a finish that qualified him for a spot at the NCAA National Championships. Smith, who joined Burke on the All-Central Region team, finished outside the top 16 just twice in 11 starts, including a fifth-place result at the GAC Championships.
Henderson State returns Mauricio Lira, a two-time First-Team All-GAC performer who earned his spot by unanimous vote in 2016. He won a pair of individual tournament titles, earned All-Tournament honors at the GAC Championships and tied for 14th at the NCAA Regional. The Reddies also return Drew Greenwood, a Second-Team All-GAC selection in 2016 and the medalist at the 2015 GAC Championships as well as Price Murphree, an Honorable Mention All-GAC pick
The Savage Storm registered a 15th-place in their inaugural appearance at the NCAA Championships. They return Zach James, a Second-Team All-GAC selection who finished second the NCAA Regionals and Hayden Foster who tied for 21st. Earlier this month, Southeastern announced the hiring of Major General James Chambers as head golf coach, to replace Don Hudson.
Southern Arkansas edged out Southern Nazarene by one point for fifth place. The Muleriders must replace Kirk Peterson, an Honorable Mention All-GAC performer and George Adams, who placed second at the 2016 GAC Championships. SNU brings back four its five participants from the GAC Championships.
Harding placed seventh, one point ahead of Arkansas-Monticello with Northwestern Oklahoma State rounding out the poll. The Bisons’ Mason Banger became the second player in school history to earn a spot in the NCAA Regionals as an individual. Harding also welcomes back Alex Williamson, a two-time All-GAC performer, who redshirted in 2015-16. UAM features Kinley Lee who joined Burke as the only freshmen named an All-GAC golfer in 2016. The coaches did not include Oklahoma Baptist in the preseason poll as the Bison complete the transition from NAIA to NCAA Division II.
The Bison take to the course first by competing at Oklahoma City’s U.C. Ferguson Classic on Tuesday, September 6. The following week, the 10 GAC schools will split evenly between Nebraska-Kearney’s Invitational and the GAC Preview, hosted by Southern Nazarene. Hot Springs Country Club again serves as the GAC Championship venue, with the 2017 Championships set for April 23-25.