By Tim Bourret
There is a fresh approach to the Clemson men's golf program. That is the way Head Coach Larry Penley sees it as he begins his 32nd year as the program's head coach. His roster includes five freshmen, two sophomores, a junior and two seniors. This is only the second time in the last 17 years that Penley's roster has been 70 percent freshman and sophomores.
"There is a fresh attitude on this team and it comes from the freshmen," said Penley. "There is a renewed spirit around here because we have youthful enthusiasm of these young players.
"Don't get me wrong, we have outstanding leadership with our veteran starters Crawford Reeves and Thomas Bradshaw. But, we have some talented young players who are here to win championships."
The Tigers are coming off a 2011-12 season that saw Clemson win consecutive tournaments for the first time since 2004. Second-place finishes at the Jerry Pate in the fall and the Puerto Rico Classic in the spring also highlighted the season that saw Clemson finish 25th in the final Golf World Coaches poll.
But, the season ended prematurely with an 11th place finish at the NCAA regional at Old Stone Club in Kentucky.
"We need to right the ship. We haven't been to the NCAA national tournament the last two years. We need to get back to the national tournament.
"I am pleased with the talent level and the attitude of this team. We are headed in the right direction."
In reality, Penley could have a balance in his starting lineup. He could start five players from five different signee classes. But, there will be fierce competition for the starting lineup from the very first tournament (Carpet Classic in Dalton, GA) in early September.
The Tigers have three returning starters in Crawford Reeves, Billy Kennerly and Thomas Bradshaw. Other returning lettermen include sophomore Hayden Garrett and senior Mike Muscatell. Red-shirt freshman Stephen Behr had a strong summer. True freshmen Cody Proveaux, Blake Kennedy, Miller Capps and Parker Mills will all compete for playing time early in the season.
Reeves ranked second on the 2011-12 team in stroke average with a 71.62 average, just above the 71.30 average of Corbin Mills, a first-team All-ACC selection who decided to turn professional after his junior year. Reeves only played in the spring last year due to a fall season back injury, and had 13 of his 21 rounds at par or better.
The academic All-America candidate from Greenville, SC had consecutive top five finishes last year and finished with a 14th place at the NCAA Regional, best among the Tigers. He has been Clemson's top golfer in the NCAA Tournament each of his first three years.
Reeves has a 73.42 career stroke average entering his senior year for 28 tournaments, more than any other active Tiger. He had an active summer that included a top 25 at the Palmetto Amateur and the Monroe, and a third-place finish at the South Carolina Amateur when he had two rounds of 64.
"Crawford is one of the top student-athletes at Clemson regardless of sport," said Penley. "He would have made All-ACC had he played in the fall. He had a really good season for us with eight rounds at 70 or better. He is our leader and we expect an outstanding senior year from him."
Clemson's third best golfer in terms of stroke average (72.73) and second best among returnees is sophomore Billy Kennerly. That average was also fifth best by a Clemson freshman. The top four freshman averages in school history below to former Tigers who made the PGA Tour.
The former AJGA All-American had a consistent rookie season as he had 27 of his 33 rounds at 75 or better. He had a team best 16 rounds at par or better and his score counted in 29 of 33 rounds, more than any other Tiger. One of just two Tigers to play in every round of 2011-12, Kennerly finished in the top 25 in nine consecutive tournaments at one point, the only Clemson golfer who could make that claim last year.
"Billy had one of the best seasons for a freshman in Clemson history," said Penley. "He was so consistent and he is getting stronger. He goes about his business and is very focused. He is going to be a solid player in our top five this year."
Thomas Bradshaw is a junior who is coming off his best amateur season, probably the best by any of the 2012-13 Clemson players. The native of Columbia, SC finished 12th at the Jones Cup, second in the Match play at the North-South Amateur, and won the Rice Planters with an incredible score of 20-under-par 268. He shot 68 or better in all four rounds.
As a sophomore in 2011-12, Bradshaw had a 73.33 stroke average and had seven rounds in the 60s, second on the team behind Corbin Mills. Despite having the fourth best stroke average on the team last year, Bradshaw led the team in birdies with 111 and had the best score of the day eight times.
"Thomas is our best putter, in fact he is one of the best putters in the nation (third in putts/round last year with 28.52). He is coming off a great summer and we certainly hope he can continue it this fall. He is an outstanding team player. He just needs to keep his off days in check and be a little more consistent."
Hayden Garrett is a fourth returning letter winner from the 2011-12 season. As a true freshman he made solid contributions at the US Collegiate, the Furman Invitational and the Woodlands. He had his best round of the year (70) at the Woodlands in Texas when Corbin Mills was playing in The Masters. His score counted in nine of 12 rounds last year.
Stephen Behr is a red-shirt freshman who will have a chance to jump in the starting lineup early. He had a solid summer with a 14th place finish at the Rice Planters and a 13th place at the South Carolina Amateur. Two years ago he won nearly every junior amateur tournament in the state of South Carolina.
Cody Proveaux was one of the most highly recruited players in the nation last year. The native of Leesville, SC was the AJGA National Player of the Year in 2011 when he won the Junior PGA. He is a two-time South Carolina State Champion and finished in the top 10 at the 2012 Players Amateur. A clutch performer, he sank a putt on the last hole to allow the East team to retain the Wyndham Cup this past summer.
He then finished off the summer by winning the South Carolina Amateur Championship with a 13-under par score of 267. Only Lucas Glover's 266 score in 1999 is better at that event.
"We are expending Cody to play for us early, it is only a function of how quickly he can adjust to the college game. He comes to compete and has a great demeanor for the game. He has an infectious personality who embraces the competition. Physically, he is an outstanding ball striker who is not afraid to make a string of birdies."
Blake Kennedy is another true freshman who had an outstanding junior career. The former Dorman High School player from Spartanburg, SC competed in many national amateur events this summer and is ranked among the top 50 AGJA players in the nation in 2012. He tied a state of South Carolina golf record by being named all-state six straight years.
Miller Capps and Parker Mills are two more true freshmen who have a chance to play early in their Clemson careers. Capps was one of the top AJGA players in North Carolina the last two years. This past summer he finished 11th at the North Carolina Amateur, 23rd at the Carolinas Amateur and reached the quarterfinals of the Carolinas Match Play. Mills, the brother of former Tiger Corbin Mills, won the Festival of Flowers this past summer.
Muscatell is coming off a strong summer in which he was the only Clemson golfer to qualify for the US Amateur. He qualified thanks to a second round 66 at Colleton River Plantation. He then missed the match play championship by just one shot after firing rounds of 74-70 in Denver, CO. Muscatell is a veteran of three tournaments over his Clemson career.