The Georgia Northwestern men's golf team is just in their first year of eligibility for region and national tournament play. As it turns out, the Bobcats are pretty fast learners.
Georgia Northwestern finished as the runner-up in their first Region XVII Golf Championship this week in Albany, coming in only behind nationally-ranked and host school Darton College.
However, they were the highest finishing Division III program in the field, earning themselves a Region XVII Division III trophy and, most importantly, an automatic berth at the NJCAA Division III Men's National Championship, which will be held in early June in western New York.
"It's hard to come to terms with, considering where we were last year to now," said sophomore Drew Tankersley, the lone returning player from last year's inaugrual squad. "It's cool, man. We've come a long way in just over a year. I really think we should content up there (in New York). It should be exciting."
Coach Jared Willerson's team - comprised of just two sophomores and four freshmen, all from the northwest Georgia area - finished up with a final-round total of 897, despite a weather delay of nearly 90 minutes more than halfway through the round.
They opened the tournament with back-to-back scores of 304 and finished the tournament at 33-over par.
Darton, a Division II school, turned in the winning score of even par 864. Abraham Baldwin ranked third at 904 and Andrew College was fourth at 911, with Georgia Military College finishing fifth with a score of 975.
Individually, freshman Chase Cole led the Bobcats with a total of 216. He finished with a round of 4-under par 68 on Wednesday - the low round of the day - after shooting 77 and 71 in tournament's first two rounds.
Cole finished second overall to Conner Waff of Darton College, who shot 5-under (67-71-73) for the week.
Freshman Jordan Estes came in with a 3-under 69 on Wednesday on heels of 77 and 74 in his first two rounds. He tied for fourth at 220 and joined Cole on the All-Region Team.
Lanier Guest (73-80-77) shot a 230 for the Bobcats, followed by Grant Allen (78-79-75) at 232 and Tankersley (77-81-78) at 236. Keaton Stanfield, playing as an individual carded a 231 (77-76-75).
"This is just awesome," Willerson said. "I wouldn't be that happy today if these guys hadn't gone out there and played the best round they have played all year. To go out on this course, under these conditions, and shoot a sub-290 round, that's just amazing. This is the round I've been waiting for all year long and it just feels good to see the go out there and do that. I'm so proud of them.
"They have worked their butts off and that's been a hallmark of all my (golf) teams, going back from Gordon Lee (High School) to here. We have always worked hard, never taken a day off and done what we were supposed to do. I think that is what will build a strong program and it's neat to see."