In many ways, the 2014-15 season is one that Larry Penley has been pointing to. The Tigers return all five starters from last year’s team that won a tournament, finished second or third in three others, had seven top fives overall and finished just two shots out of a playoff to reach the NCAA National Tournament.
The Tigers have two other players with considerable experience who will challenge for starting positions, including senior Billy Kennerly, who was Clemson’s best player this past summer.
Head Coach Larry Penley, who has taken Clemson to the NCAA Tournament all 31 years he has been at Clemson, feels the key is the team’s attitude as much as anything. “We have to play this year with an attitude,” said Penley. “We have to plan to be a terrific team. We have to go into tournaments believing we are going to win. We have to play without fear and understand we have the talent to be one of the best teams in the nation.”
Clemson returns eight lettermen, the top eight in terms of stroke average. The top five players averaged between 72.57 and 73.44, which gives testimony to the team’s depth for 2014-15. Penley is hoping that a couple of his returning lettermen take their scores deep a little more often.
“I am all for consistency, but what we lacked last year was a guy who would come out and shoot 67 every once in a while. We need someone who is not afraid to take it deep.”
The top six scorers on the club last year combined for just 17 rounds in the 60s and there were just eight rounds at 68 or better “We have players who are capable of doing that. They just have to go out and have the mindset to do it.”
The top returning scorer from last year….the last two years for that matter… is redshirt junior Stephen Behr. The native of Florence, S.C. led the squad with a 72.57 average for 30 rounds last year. He also tied for the lead in rounds in the 60s with five and had seven rounds under par, second best on the club. He led the team in rounds at 75 or better with 25 and his score counted 26 of 30 rounds.
“Stephen is the consummate student-athlete. He has been a top student in the classroom and had an internship with Wells Fargo in Charleston this past summer. That might have been good for him because it made him miss competitive golf. From what I have seen he is refreshed and ready for another solid, consistent year.”
Penley has two players he refers to as X-factors on the 2014-15 Tigers, Billy Kennerly and Cody Proveaux. Both have shown capabilities to take their scores low, they just need to be a bit more consistent. But, based on their summer performances they seem primed for big seasons.
Kennerly was one of the team’s top players in 2012-13 and he finished the year with five consecutive rounds in the 60s to establish a Clemson record. All five were in NCAA Tournament competition. Last year, Kennerly was slowed throughout the fall by a virus and never got back into the lineup.
This summer Kennerly was back to his old self and finished second at the Palmetto Amateur and third at the Dogwood. He was a combined 25-under-par for his eight rounds at those two events. He finished the summer with a top 25 at the Canadian Amateur and posted 10 summer rounds in the 60s.
“Billy has undergone some swing changes and is much stronger. He is hitting the ball farther off the tee and that is big for him. He has always had a terrific short game. I am excited for him and excited to what he can do in his senior year.
Proveaux had a 73.39 stroke average last year when he played 28 rounds. Ten of his 28 18-hole tours were at par or better and he had the best score of the day by a Tiger seven times. He hit his drive in the fairway 77 percent of the time, but he had just one round in the 60s. The former National Junior Player of the Year has four career top 10s.
“Cody looks focused,” said Penley. “He has lost 42 pounds over the summer to get in better shape and I think it is going to carry over to his scores in competition. He is a guy our players rally around. He is our most passionate player and I look for him to break out this year. Sometimes he tries too hard, but I think he has the right attitude heading into this year.”.
Miller Capps, who has been among the top three on the Clemson team in stroke average each of the last two years, showed last year that he is certainly one of those players Penley sees as capable of taking his scores low. He was co-medalist at the Puerto Rico Classic in the first tournament of the spring season with a 204 score. He was co-medalist with Robby Shelton of Alabama, one of five national top 10 players he either tied or defeated in that event. The 204 score was the lowest by a Clemson golfer on a par 72 course in 13 years.
“We seemed to have a lot of injuries last year and Miller was one who was struck. He had knee surgery, then missed the last two rounds at the Augusta State Invitational when he was sick. We know Miller can do it on the big stage, he showed that in Puerto Rico.”
Two sophomores were big factors for the Tigers as freshmen last year. Austin Langdale and Carson Young both had outstanding performances.
Langdale was second on the team in stroke average at 73.00 and won the Cleveland Golf Palmetto Classic in March with a 210 score. He led the Tigers to the team victory as well.
Young was sixth on the team in stroke average at 74.28, but he was Clemson’s best player by far at the NCAA regional in Illinois where he finished sixth with a 220 score. It was the first top 10 by a Clemson freshman at an NCAA Tournament since Kyle Stanley was second at the NCAA National tournament in 2007.Young will miss the first month of the season as he recovers from August knee surgery.
Blake Kennedy also will see action this year after a solid sophomore year. While Langdale won the Cleveland Golf Palmetto Classic, it was Kennedy who was the team’s best player on the last day when the Tigers won the 18-team event. The native of Spartanburg, S.C. played the last five holes in four-under-par on the way to a final round 68, the best round of the day by any golfer. Kennedy finished ninth overall, then finished 15th at the Linger Longer two weeks later.
A third player with an individual victory on the roster is senior Hayden Garrett. The native of Easley, S.C. was co-medalist at the Charleston Shootout in Charleston, S.C. in March of 2013. The near 4.0 student has a 74.71 stroke average for his career. Parker Mills is another veteran on the Clemson roster. The redshirt sophomore is yet to play in a tournament, but has won in amateur play.
Two freshmen could also see action in 2014-15. Joshua Fickes is a rookie from Beaufort, S.C. who was as active as any Tiger this past summer. He finished 44th at the Rice Planters and also played in the Players Amateur near his hometown. He won the 2013 South Carolina Golf Association Junior Championship when he made a birdie putt on the final hole to shoot 210 for the three rounds.
Peter Mathison is a freshman from Jupiter, Fla, who has an outstanding resume as a junior golfer. He was ranked among the top 75 in the nation according to Golfweek/Sagarin. He made match play at the US Junior Amateur Championship in 2010 at the age of 13, the third youngest on record to advance to the match play.
In general, Penley is excited for this season. “I have challenged these guys. The clock is ticking. We have an older team this year and it is time to make it happen. I told them it will be over before you know it. They have a chance to leave their mark on Clemson golf.”