By (James Ogletree)

When Lee Hodges’ golf coach at UAB accepted a head coaching position elsewhere, Hodges knew immediately what his next move would be: to transfer and play for the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Hodges, who spent two years at UAB, said he received numerous calls from interested coaches, but his decision was already made. He wanted to see for himself how Alabama managed to produce so many professional golfers while remaining successful in collegiate competition.

“They just know how to win,” Hodges said. “They have so many people who are on tour now. They’ve got a little operation going, and obviously it works, so I wanted to be a part of it.”

It would seem that changing schools and teams shortly before the start of a new season would be daunting. Hodges, however, said his new teammates made the transition seamless by accepting him as one of their own.

His teammate Davis Riley said Hodges fit right in due to his love of golf, competitive nature, and Southern heritage, which allowed him to bond with them over activities like hunting. He also said Hodges’ selfless qualities endeared him to his new team.

“He’s a very caring and supportive guy and he’s always there to boost you up,” Riley said.

At the start of the spring semester, Hodges fell into a leadership role when Riley, the team’s best player, sat out two tournaments with an injury. Head coach Jay Seawell said Hodges, now acclimated to his new environment, gained credibility with his teammates and handled it masterfully.

Seawell also said the improvements in Hodges’ play throughout the season, including three top-10s in his last four tournaments, are partly due to him settling in and becoming more accustomed to Alabama.

“He’s earned the respect of his teammates, and I think the more comfortable he’s gotten with his teammates and being part of Alabama golf, his talent is now showing through,” Seawell said.

Hodges’ recent form certainly supports that theory. He has shot over 72 only once in the last six months – a humbling, out-of-nowhere 84 that he called, “one of the better things that’s happened” because it refocused and motivated him.

“I feel like I was just going through the motions,” Hodges said. “I was working hard but not as hard as I should have been.”

He earned his second career win, and first at Alabama, in his next tournament. He said he took the 84 as a wake-up call even without Seawell getting on his case, because Seawell understands that even the best golfers will have an occasional off day.

Hodges said the team’s mantra is “just swim,” referring to a story Seawell tells his players about learning how to swim by being pushed into the deep end of the pool. It’s that high standard, Hodges said, that is the root of the winning culture of Alabama golf.

While Hodges is quick to praise the coaching staff, Seawell said Hodges deserves a lot of the credit himself. He said Hodges has always been a great player and that, in hindsight, he wishes he had signed Hodges from the beginning.

Seawell said Hodges’ talent is his biggest contribution to the program, but that his commitment to the team over individual accomplishment cannot be overlooked.

“If you’re going to be a successful program, you better have a lot of guys who are great teammates, and he is phenomenal,” Seawell said. “That’s been the most exciting part. He makes Alabama golf better.”

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports