By (James Ogletree)

After making Second Team All-SEC and recording five top-10 finishes as a freshman, Alabama golfer Davis Riley had high expectations for his sophomore season. When those expectations weren’t met, he began changing his swing in hopes of recapturing his success.

A pedestrian fall season, in which Riley’s best finish was a tie for 19th, followed. Head coach Jay Seawell bluntly told him he was handling it the wrong way. Seawell thought Riley had become too robotic and analytical, overthinking the details of his swing.

“In the fall I was putting too much pressure on myself and kind of got tied up in mechanics,” Riley said. “This offseason I had a lot of good talks with coach and just tried to trust my practice so when I get to tournaments it’s freed up.”

However, Riley had to wait slightly longer than expected to test this new philosophy in competition. In the first tournament of the spring, he suffered an injury that forced him to miss the next two tournaments.

Riley said it was difficult to stay patient during that time, but being unable to compete with his teammates reminded him to not take playing golf at Alabama for granted.

“I was really disappointed because I had worked really hard all offseason and I felt like I was in a really good spot,” Riley said. “But you appreciate what you get to do when you’re not actually out there with your guys and getting to play in tournaments.”

He returned to the lineup a month later, recorded a season-best T8 finish, and hasn’t looked back since, also finishing in the top 10 in his two most recent events.

Head coach Jay Seawell said Riley’s injury gave him a fresh perspective that allowed him to become more well-rounded and play at a higher level.

“When things are going your way, it’s easy to be unfocused and only rely on talent,” Seawell said. “Talent is just the first ingredient. Maturity, focus, work ethic and those types of things are the ingredients that have helped him become the player he wants to be.”

Seawell stresses the importance of mental toughness and staying in the moment to all of his players from the beginning of the season, knowing they will especially need those reminders as they enter the postseason.

“That’s the most essential thing in coaching,” Seawell said. “It’s easy to think day-to-day or week-to-week about your results. But coaching is about life changes, life skills, and practice skills that bring those results.”

Seawell said last year’s team worried too much about results during the SEC Championship, leading to an 11th-place finish out of 14 teams. He is determined to ensure that won’t happen again.

“I think last year’s team got ahead of its skis a little bit, thinking about what could’ve happened if they played well,” Seawell said. “This team seems to be handling that part better.”

The Seaside Course, where the SEC Championship will be played, hosts a PGA Tour event, so the players know they will face a stern test, both physically and mentally.

“It’s not easy,” said Jonathan Hardee, Riley’s teammate. “You get some windy days and the whole golf tournament is a battle. It takes a lot of patience and mental toughness. You need to capitalize on the opportunities you’re given because they can be so few and far between.”

Riley knows he and the rest of the team can compete with college golf’s elite, as it kept pace with top-five opponents Vanderbilt and Florida in a tournament three weeks ago. He said the team is peaking at the right time and is setting its sights high.

“We’re all playing really good, we just need to get that swagger and confidence about ourselves,” Riley said. “When we’re all clicking, we’ll be hard to beat. We know we can go win an SEC Championship.”

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports