By (James Ogletree)

As the Alabama men’s golf team begins its first week of practice, the team’s returning players are finding that, compared to last year, spots in tournaments will be significantly harder to come by.

Having already returned its top five players from a year ago, the lineup became even more crowded in November when head coach Jay Seawell signed one of the nation’s top recruiting classes, consisting of a trio of talented freshmen: Davis Shore, Wilson Furr and Ben Fuller.

So far, the young guns have been as good as advertised. They have exceeded expectations by not only holding their own against the veterans, but by excelling and proving they are ready to wrest starting positions away from them.

“For the last couple of years, [the veterans] have been able to shoot some average scores and get in,” Seawell said. “I think what we found in the first qualifier is you better bring your “A” game or you’re not going to qualify.”

Junior Davis Riley, the team’s best player last year, won the qualifier to secure his spot in the lineup, but not without Shore applying some heat. The freshman stood neck-and-neck with Riley on the final day until the latter fired a back-nine 31 to pull away, showing that what was once a formality must now be earned.

“It puts it in your mind that the only way to guarantee a spot is to win,” senior Jonathan Hardee said. “To tell yourself you can win, you need to win, and you want to win is huge for us going into the start of the season.”

A lot of work behind the scenes goes into maintaining that competitive culture. Seawell said he must ensure during recruiting that prospects will respond to his coaching style and that they have a tireless work ethic and a team-first mentality.

Due to their experience in team competition, he especially coveted Shore and Furr, who were teammates representing the United States at the 2016 Junior Ryder Cup. Within two months, both had signed with the Crimson Tide.

“When you do that, you understand the pressures that come with team golf that are so different from regular golf,” Seawell said. “That’s the unknown; we’re not sure how young guys will handle that at first. (Shore and Furr) are really prepared for that part of it, so that was very advantageous for us with those guys.”

If Seawell has only minimal concerns about his freshmen adjusting to college golf, he certainly won’t be worried about his returners, given their strong summers. Hardee captured the Southeastern Amateur in June, followed by fellow senior Lee Hodges advancing to the final 64 at the prestigious U.S. Amateur.

With the team’s veterans handling the pressure of competing against top-tier competition and the freshmen coming out swinging and forcing everyone to take their games to the next level, what could go wrong?

Beginning his 26th year of coaching, he has not changed his central philosophy: concern yourself only with what you can control, which is yourself and your preparation. That will be key this season as the team tackles the challenge of balancing self-belief with the daily grind that excellence demands.

“The potential is there, so we don’t ever want to hide from that,” Seawell said. “But we also need to be honest with ourselves that we need to prove it and earn it. I think the leadership is there and I think the talent is there… At the end of the year, I’d be surprised if we weren’t an elite team.

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports