The Dalton State College men's golf team will begin play today at the NAIA National Championship at Las Sendas Golf Club in Mesa, Arizona. The No. 3-ranked Roadrunners finished as national runners-up last season. Coach Ben Rickett said the players will need to adjust to a new environment this week in the Arizona desert.
"It's a very, very different type of golf course," Rickett said. "You go from playing target golf, to playing in the desert where you get big first bounces and a lot of roll on every shot. Instead of being in the trees, you're in the cactus bushes. It's taken a few days to get used to it."
After winning the Southern States Athletic Conference tournament, the Roadrunners completed their official nine-hole practice round on Monday and also played 18 holes at the same course on Sunday. Rickett said the players improved drastically from Sunday to Monday, after adjusting to the fast conditions and the numerous blind tee shots throughout the course.
Dalton State will tee off today at 10:30 a.m. Dalton time and at 3:10 p.m. Dalton time on Wednesday. Each team will play 18 holes on each of the first two days of the four-day tournament, with the top 17 teams advancing to the final two rounds on Thursday and Friday. The top 40 individual golfers from teams who do not make the cut will also advance to the final two rounds.
The Roadrunners will play today with the nation's No.1-ranked team, the College of Coastal Georgia, along with the No. 8-ranked team, Rocky Mountain College (Montana).
"You try to prep them all year, because the worst thing as a coach are surprises," Rickett said. "We've played all these teams so you know what you're up against."
Dalton State junior Ben Rebne, who has played all season as the Roadrunners' No. 1-golfer, will enter the season's final tournament having already learned of his selection as a finalist for the Jack Nicklaus National Player of the Year Award. Rebne was announced late last week as a finalist for the award along with four other NAIA golfers from across the country, with the winner to be announced on May 30.
"It's crazy to believe what he's done over the last eight months," Rickett said. "He's really had to grow into this role as our No. 1. He broke through earlier this spring, and he's been a different player ever since. We knew he would be a semifinalist, but to be a finalist is amazing. If he has a good week this week, you never know."
Last season was the best-ever team finish for the Dalton State men's golf program, but the school has seen two individual national champions. Sean Elliot, in 2015, and S.M. Lee, last year, both won individual national titles for Dalton State, each while shooting an NAIA Championship all-time scoring record of 272.
Rickett said the wind will likely be a significant factor this week, as well. He said course management will likely be the key for the Roadrunners.
"Only one team can win a national championship," Rickett said. "It's not easy to win at any level, and you just wanna be one of those teams with a shot on Friday."
Four Dalton State women's golfers were named NAIA All-Americans on Monday. Isabel Rijos earned first-team honors, Katie Dalton and Cameron Daniel earned second-team honors, and Hannah Gasaway was named to the third team.
This is Dalton's fourth time being named to the list, Rijos' third and Daniel's and Gasaway's second.
The Lady Roadrunners finished sixth at last week's NAIA National Championship at Lincoln Park Golf Course in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.