AUBURN, Ala. - Auburn men’s golf head coach Nick Clinard has a lot of pride in his program, and with good reason. Under his tutelage, the team has become among the most consistent and respected programs in the nation. Last May, the Tigers made their sixth-straight appearance in the NCAA Championships, one of just six teams to achieve the feat, and the only SEC program to do so. They finished 11th at the event, which is the fourth-best finish in school history.
Without missing a beat, the Tigers saw their consistency continue in the fall portion of the 2017 season, finishing in the top-five of each event, including two runner-up finishes, while climbing to as high as sixth in the Golfstat Relative Rankings.
“I think it shows a lot of consistency with recruiting and player development, but it all goes back to the players. They are the ones that make the shots and make the putts,” Clinard said. “I don’t think we have been ranked outside the top-25 since 2010 at any point during the season, so it’s something that we have a lot of pride in in this building, in that locker room, when it comes to that. The guys aren’t only playing for themselves, but they are playing for each other, for the university and for the program. I think moving forward to the spring, it creates a lot of excitement. Hopefully it creates a sense of urgency to come out of the gates and have this thing end up where we want to in April and May.”
The fall season started with a third-place finish at the Carpet Capital Collegiate before back-to-back runner-up finishes at the Trinity Forest Invitational and Jerry Pate National. Both of those finishes were headed by freshman Brandon Mancheno, one of two freshmen that had a major impact in their first semester on the Plains, along with Wells Padgett.
Mancheno, a native of Jacksonville, Fla., tied for third at the Trinity Forest Invitational and t-9th at the Jerry Pate National and was the Tigers’ top individual in both events. The two-time Florida State Golf Association Junior Player of the Year finished the fall ranked second on the team in stroke average at 70.92 strokes per round.
Padgett also had a major impact as he was the Tigers’ top individual in the last tournament of the fall, the Tavistock Invitational. The Wichita, Kan., product is nipping on Mancheno’s heels in the team stroke average rankings in third place at 71.25 strokes.
Both players rank in the top-65 of the fall individual rankings.
“It’s huge and it’s wonderful for us as coaches to have freshmen like that,” Clinard said. “It does create more depth on the team and I think it makes the other guys better. It pushes everyone to try to raise their game, raise the bar. They’ve come in and adapted very well. They have great personalities, attitudes and work ethics, so I think all of that plays a part. They were raised the right way, so a lot of credit goes back to their families. For them to come in and play very well consistently shows that they belong. They belong in the SEC.”
Sophomore Jovan Rebula had continued success following an outstanding freshman season that saw the George, South Africa, product earn a pair of SEC Freshman of the Week honors. He was the Tigers’ most consistent player in the fall, finishing in the top-20 of each event, and currently leads the team in stroke average at 70.67 strokes. He currently ranks 30th in the individual rankings.
“I think consistency has been a good thing for me this semester,” Rebula said. “I’ve been hitting the ball pretty good. Mainly for me, just managing my game, and we put a big emphasis on that, and controlling your emotions are things I think I handled pretty well. I think physically, my game has been pretty similar to how it was last year, but I do think mentally, it was much stronger this semester. I just fought my way through each golf course and tournament.
“Obviously, being a sophomore, I’ve been here for a year already, and it makes it easier when you’ve already been doing it for a year,” Rebula said. “I’m not that nervous. I’ve been working with the coaches on a couple of things. I’ve been putting the ball much better than the previous semester, and that’s a big thing for me. Putting is everything in golf, and Coach Clinard has been working with me on that, so I’ve been really putting it nicely. That makes a big difference.”
Juniors Jacob Solomon and Trace Crowe also had big fall seasons. Solomon, a native of Dublin, Calif., ranks fourth in stroke average at 71.83 while Crowe, a second team All-SEC selection as a sophomore, lead the team individually at the Carpet Capital Collegiate with a t-3rd finish.
The Tigers also competed twice as a “B-team” with UC Davis transfer Ryan Knop, playing in his first tournament as a Tiger, finishing runner-up at the F&M Bank APSU Intercollegiate and junior Graysen Huff also finishing in a tie for runner-up at the Samford Intercollegiate.
Up next for Auburn is a familiar trip to the Hawaiian Islands for the Amer Ari Invitational held Feb. 1-3, 2018, at the King’s Course in Waikoloa, Hawaii, which will kick-off the spring season.
“I don’t want to jinx anything, because anything can happen, but last year we had a lot of fun,” Rebula said. “That is one of those tournaments you look forward to right through the year. It’s somewhere that can get you to where you forget about golf for a little while. You’re on the island and we go on this boat cruise every year, which is so much fun. That’s something that we all look forward to.”