By Matt Penland
AUBURN, Ala. – The No. 11 Auburn men’s golf team is getting ready to tee off the fall portion of the 2016-17 season, looking to earn its sixth consecutive NCAA Championship appearance.
“I feel good about this season,” eighth-year head coach Nick Clinard said. “We have got a wealth of young talent and some really good senior leadership from some guys that have played a lot of really good golf for us over the years. We are looking forward to getting the year rolling.”
Auburn returns eight lettermen from last season led by seniors All-SEC Matt Gilchrest and Will Long, junior All-American Ben Schlottman and sophomore All-Region Jacob Solomon.
Gilchrest, a two-time All-SEC selection, averaged 72.43 last season with five top-10 finishes including a career-best third place at the SEC Championship. The Southlake, Texas, native enters the season with two career wins at the 2015 Mobile Sports Authority Intercollegiate and the 2014 UK Bluegrass Invitational.
Long, a native of Gastonia, N.C., won the first tournament of his career last season at the U.S. Collegiate Championship. He averaged 72.63 with four top-20 finishes, including 10th at the NCAA Regional.
“I think we’ll see a lot of leadership from Matt and Will, “Clinard said. “A lot of comradery as far as chemistry goes and a lot of good golf. They are experienced guys that know what to expect. They are ready to get started because they have got to get ready to start a pro career here in another year.”
Schlottman, a native of Advance, N.C., averaged 72.57 last season with four top-10 finishes. As a freshman, he became the first freshman in school history to earn All-America honors.
Jacob Solomon, Dublin, Calif., native will look to continue his success from last season that saw him earn Freshman All-SEC and PING All-Southeast Region honors while averaging 71.91, the fourth-lowest stroke average by a freshman in school history. He finished in the top-20 in seven of 10 events played last season.
Seniors Ryan Benton (71.91) and Blake Messer (75.63) also return along with sophomores Trace Crowe and Graysen Huff.
Crowe, a native of Bluffton, S.C., averaged 74.13 last season and won the first tournament of his career at the USA Individual Tournament.
Huff, an Eagle, Idaho, native also won medalist honors for the first time in his career at the ASU Fall Beach Classic while averaging 74.50.
“I think we need a couple more guys to step up and be All-Americans,” Clinard said. “Last year, we had one All-American (Michael Johnson), and I think we have the talent to have three or four this year. If we do that, we will have a much better year than last year.”
Auburn also welcomes a trio of newcomers in UC Davis transfer Ryan Knop and freshmen Reagan Harrell and Jovan Rebula.
Knop, a sophomore from Pleasanton, Calif., was a four-time letterman in high school and an All-East Bay Athletic League first-team selection.
Harrell, a native of Guntersville, Ala., enters Auburn as the No. 2 recruit in the state as a senior. He was a two-time state champion for Guntersville High and won medalist honors at the 2015 Southeast Junior Golf Tour Vestavia Junior Classic.
“Reagan is an ultra-talented kid that is probably a little raw, but we look for him to improve this year and help this team,” Clinard said.
Rebula joins Auburn from George, West Cape, South Africa, where he was the No. 1 ranked amateur in the country. He won the Western Province Amateur and the Eastern Province Stroke Play Championship in 2015.
“Jovan is a player that was ranked very, very high in the world amateur golf rankings that played worldwide. From an experience factor, he is above and beyond his age.”
The Tigers will look to continue their success under Clinard that includes five-straight appearances in the NCAA Championship, one of only seven teams to do so. They tee off the fall portion of the schedule Sept. 9-11 as defending champs at the Carpet Capital Collegiate at the Farm, in Dalton, Ga.
“It’s a tough golf course. We’ve got good vibes coming from winning it last year,” Clinard said. “It’s a tough field but we will be ready to go.”