After a strong 2014-2015 season that finished with the fourth-best finish in program history at the NCAA Championships, the Auburn men’s golf team has high hopes as it enters fall play.
“Our expectations are always high,” said coach Nick Clinard. “We have high expectations for our guys and we have high demands as well, that they handle their business and do the right thing on and off the golf course. We’re looking for big things this year.”
Auburn returns plenty of firepower from last year’s team, including several golfers who played in high-profile tournaments this summer.
Ben Schlottman, the SEC Freshman of the Year this past spring, won the Palmetto Amateur and played in the local Barbasol Championship, a PGA TOUR event. Incoming freshman Jacob Solomon, junior Will Long and senior Michael Johnson all earned invitations to the US Amateur. Johnson had a stroke average of 68.47 over the five summer tournaments he participated in and is a player who Clinard thinks Tiger fans should keep an eye on this season.
“Michael Johnson’s been a great player, but I think you’re going to see a different Michael Johnson this year,” Clinard said. “He’s in his fifth year now. I think he’s got something to prove. He wears the Auburn logo with pride and I think he’s going to put the team on his back.”
Along with increased production on the course, Clinard expects Johnson and fellow senior Jake Mondy to become leaders off the course as well.
“We’re looking for those guys to lead the way,” the seventh-year coach said. “Both are very talented young men. I think they can assume that role and help the younger guys out.”
The Tigers lose only one contributor from last year’s team, All-Southeast Region player Dan Stringfellow. Despite Stringfellow’s departure, Clinard feels that this year’s team is talented enough to avoid a drop in production.
“We’ve got a good core of players coming back,” Clinard said. “Then obviously with our freshmen coming in, depth-wise, I think this is probably one of the most talented teams I’ve ever coached.”
The incoming freshman class is indeed a talented one, as Jacob Solomon, Greyson Huff and Mark Lawrence were ranked the 26th, 54th and 57th best high school players in the nation last year, respectively, according to the National Junior Golf Scoreboard. Rounding out the freshman class is Trace Crowe, who was the 3rd-ranked golfer out of South Carolina, according to the NJGS.
Despite the high level of talent among the group, Clinard said the focus will be getting the young men acclimated to college life and improving their games as the season goes along.
“It’s a whole new world for them,” he said. “Just getting used to being away from home and all the stuff that goes along with that. After that just kind of adapting to my assistant Corey Maggard’s style and my style and then learning from us. Hopefully as the semester goes on and the year goes on, they continue to improve and get better.”
One specific area Auburn will try to improve in this year is the short game.
“That’s our area where we’re not as strong as we need to be, that 150-yards and in,” Clinard said. “We’re pretty good in that area, but we’re not great. That’s going to be the primary emphasis for coach Maggard and myself this fall.”
The ultimate goal for Clinard and his team is to use last year’s success as a springboard for even higher finishes this season.
“We led the nation last year in team stroke average, so hopefully we can do that again,” Clinard said. “We’re just going to continue to see what we can do. We just continue trying to be better, trying to make ourselves better and not worry about everybody else.”
The Tigers will begin their fall season on Sept. 11 at the Carpet Capital Collegiate in Dalton, Georgia.