1996-97 Men's Golf Review
The 1996-97 season was one of guarded optimism for the Florida State program. Fresh off a trip to the NCAA Championships, the Seminoles were poised to tackle a schedule that featured many of the top teams in the country. Although the Seminoles returned three golfers that played a majority of the rounds last year, Coach Ernie Lanford was forced to replace All-ACC performer Richard Fulford and deal with the loss of George McNeill for the fall season.
With only one senior on the squad and a host of underclassmen, Lanford relied upon young, experienced talent as they entered tournament play. Steve Carrington, Jason Pool and Barry Dyche all participated in the NCAA Championships the previous year and were determined to repeat the same such performance entering the fall season. Carrington came off an excellent summer that saw him capture the Florida State Amateur title. Pool and Dyche have been a mark of consistency for the Florida State program, contributing in a combined 30 tournaments prior to the 1996-97 season.
Several freshman were worthy of the challenge, as three true freshman saw action. The key contributor from the freshman class was Gulf Breeze, FL native Nathan Bertsch. Bertsch played in nine tournaments, including all eight in the spring. With five top 20 finishes and a stroke average of 74.0, Bertsch established himself as a top 5 player of the future for the Seminoles. Fellow freshmen Ryan Felty and Matthew Raitz also saw tournament action in the fall.
The Seminoles opened the season with the Keswick Club Classic in Charlottesville, VA. Junior Jason Pool, a native of Great Falls, VA, returned home with an impressive showing. Pool finished the tournament in fifth place with a three-round total of 214, ten strokes behind winner Jason Buha of Duke University. The Keswick Classic was an opportunity for Lanford to experiment with his line-up and get an indication of the young talent that this team possessed. Freshman Ryan Felty played in his first collegiate tournament, finishing tied for 66th after a final-round 76. The Tribe finished in 10th place out of 14 teams, one stroke behind the University of Alabama.
As the season entered October, the Seminoles traveled to Tennessee for the Tournament of Champions. Held at the prestigious Holston Hills Country Club in Knoxville, TN, the Tribe finished in 13th place out of 15 teams. Another new golfer was added to the top 5 as Mark Stillwell qualified for his first tournament of his collegiate career. Stillwell finished the tournament with a two-day total of 229 and a tied for 66th performance.
In the third and final tournament of the fall, the Seminoles participated in the difficult Country Club of Louisiana Intercollegiate. The tournament featured eight district teams and perennial powerhouses Houston and Oklahoma. The Tribe used a tied for 14th place finish from Barry Dyche to finish ninth. Dyche shot a low-round of 68 in the first round to finish with a total of 218. The final tournament of the fall also mark the first tournament of the year for Bertsch. Bertsch finished tied for 19th with a three-round total of 220.
The fall season ended with some question marks. The Seminoles were fortunate to get McNeill back in the spring, but were still in search of a number five player. The Seminoles and Coach Lanford solved that problem as the spring season began. Bertsch established himself as a top 5 player with a solid off-season of conditioning and practice.
The Tribe started the spring season with a trip to in-state rival Florida for the Gator Invitational. Played at the University of Florida Golf Course, the Seminoles fired a second-round team total of 282 to pace them to an eighth place finish. Jason Pool posted two sub-par rounds, finishing tied for 11th, while McNeill returned to the Seminole line-up with a top 20 finish. A native of N. Fort Myers, McNeill placed tied for 20th with four other golfers. Robert Floyd captured the medalist honors, one stroke ahead of Mark Northey of Georgia and Jake Kransteuber of South Carolina.
After a week off, the Mercedes-Benz Collegiate Championship was an opportunity for the Seminoles to return to their winning ways. They did just that, capturing their lone team championship of the year, beating Mississippi State University by seven strokes. Three Seminole golfers all finished tied for 7th place with totals of 222. Jason Pool, Nathan Bertsch and Steve Bradley all finished three strokes out of the lead, while McNeill finished tied for 18th.
With the first victory of the year under their belts, the Tribe participated in the inaugural Bridges All-American at the newly-built Bridges Country Club. On a course designed by Arnold Palmer, the Seminoles finished in fifth, eight strokes behind the University of Minnesota. Steve Bradley recorded his second straight top 20 finish, firing a final-round 72 and a tied for 12th place finish.
The Seminoles enjoyed a break from classes by hosting the Killearn/Seminole Classic at the Killearn Country Club. A field of 18 teams traveled to Tallahassee for the sixth annual event. Six of eight teams from the ACC were represented, as well as teams from across the southeast and midwest. The Seminoles rebounded after a slow start to finish tied for sixth with Louisiana State University. The team total of 890 was one stroke behind South Carolina and 17 strokes behind winner North Florida. Dyche recorded his best finish of the season, finishing tied for 5th with Martin duToit of Southeastern Louisiana University.
After a fifth place finish at the Alabama Spring Invitational, the Seminoles traveled to Augusta, GA for the Cleveland Classic. The Seminoles finished in ninth place with a team score of 887, one stroke behind Florida Southern College. Nathan Bertsch led the team, finishing tied for 16th with three other golfers.
With the subtraction of a fall tournament, the Seminoles had the opportunity to play in the Billy Hitchcock Intercollegiate in Auburn, AL. Led by Steve Bradley, the Seminoles finished in eighth place out of 12 teams. Bradley, a native of Ocala, FL, started with an opening-round 70 and finished with a total of 219, tying him for 13th.
The last tournament of the year for the Tribe was the ACC Championships. This year's tournament was part of the ACC Spring Weekend and was held in Atlanta, GA at the Whitewater Country Club. The Seminoles finished the season with a fifth place finish, 14 strokes behind fourth-place Virginia. McNeill finished tied for 8th, while Dyche used a final-round 71 to finish in 11th place.
Although the Seminoles failed to make the postseason, several positive things were accomplished over the course of the year. The Seminoles captured the team title at the Mercedes-Benz Collegiate Championship. McNeill returned to tournament play in the spring, leading the team with a stroke average of 73.4 in 24 rounds of play. McNeill also led the team with six top 20 finishes in eight tournaments, including the 8th place finish at ACC's.
The emergence of the freshmen was also a positive for Coach Lanford and the Seminoles. Bertsch, along with Felty, added much needed depth to the squad. Craig Cochran also showed signs of life, competing for tournaments throughout the year.
With the tournament victory in Jacksonville and the addition of young, talented freshmen this season, a blueprint has been set for the future. The Seminoles will use the experience from this season to return to the NCAA Championships in future seasons.