Georgia Southwestern men’s golf coach Andrew Danna, left, and assistant coach Reese Moseley watch practice Wednesday by the Hurricanes, who are now ranked No. 24 in the latest Division II coaches’ poll and No. 12 at golfstat.com, as they hit balls at the driving range at Griffin Bell. (email@example.com)
AMERICUS -- Five weeks ago, the long, wooden table sitting in Andrew Danna's office was virtually empty, filled with only high expectations and a couple of dated trophies.
But then tournament by tournament, the Georgia Southwestern men's golf team started adding to the makeshift trophy case.
First came a team championship at the Kiawah Island Invitational on Sept. 6 -- the first tournament victory since the Hurricanes became a Division II school in 2006. Then came a fourth-place finish in the Alabama State Fall Golf Classic, followed by team titles at the RTJ Grand National Challenge and the 17-team Cougar Invitational.
That magical month for GSW has left the Hurricanes with an overflowing trophy table and even higher expectations.
"The trophies symbolize all the hard work that they have been putting together," said Danna, who is in his second year as coach of the Hurricanes. "I think a lot more people are taking notice of what we are doing. Just people congratulating us on campus and in the community. It feels good to win golf tournaments and to see my team win. But these guys have worked hard for this success."
The Hurricanes are now ranked 12th in the nation by golfstat.com and 24th in the latest Golf World/Nike Golf Coaches' Poll, which was released before the team's most recent win. It's the first national ranking in school history for the Hurricanes, who were ranked outside of the Top 100 at golfstat.com last year at this time.
Teamwork and camaraderie floated around GSW's practice Wednesday afternoon as the Hurricanes prepared for their final tournament of the fall season, which is still nearly two weeks away.
But that's how the Hurricanes have kept their unbelievable success alive this fall -- by always looking ahead and focusing on the next tournament and having each other's back the whole way.
"We are just so close, and being together for three years as a core group is huge," said senior Craig Gibson, GSW's leading golfer this fall. "It's starting to come together. We were talking at the beginning of the year, and we thought that if we were going to do something special, it was going to be this year."
Gibson, a native of Alberta, Canada, who transferred to GSW from Missouri Valley College after his freshman season, said this fall has been "surreal" to be a part of.
"We knew we could do it, but to actually do it and feel it is incredible," Gibson said.
Gibson was recently named the Peach Belt Conference Golfer of the Week after winning the 90-player Cougar Invitational with a 2-under-par in the three-day tournament that featured nearly a dozen Top 25 teams in the nation.
The senior, who is leading the team with a 72.1 scoring average, had finished in a tie for second in his last two events this fall. Danna said the other players feed off of Gibson's success and consistency.
"Craig is an excellent player," said junior Nate Gahman, a former Lee County graduate and Herald Player of the Year. "(Gibson) straightened his mental game out, and he really doesn't budge. If he comes out a couple over par the first few holes, he will bounce back and not beat himself."
Gibson and Gahman are joined by senior Christopher Hall and junior J.P. Griffin as the top four golfers -- a foursome that Danna considers the cornerstone of the team.
Gahman, Gibson and Griffin -- who are also roommates -- have each had GSW's low score in a tournament this fall. Danna said each of his top golfers have similar approaches to the game, starting with their distance off the tee.
"Nate hits the ball a really long way, and he has a really good short game," Danna said. "He has the ability to make birdies. He is very consistent. You can count on him to play well and shoot a good score. That's kind of how I feel about all four of them."
The rest of GSW's team is made up of senior Casey Hicks, sophomore Patrick Hall and freshmen Chris Campos, Travis Oestmann and Southland Academy grad Peter Lee. Oestmann was the No. 5 golfer in the first tournament this fall, while Campos has held that position since.
Not to be forgotten is assistant coach Reese Moseley, a 2010 GSW graduate who has been a key ingredient in the team this fall.
"You should see Reese on the golf course," Gibson said about Moseley, who literally runs from player to player during tournaments. "He is like a marathon runner out on the golf course."
Gahman added: "Reese is really the on-course guy. He is quite a help on the course. He knows a lot about tournament experience. He has been here for four years just like us, and he knows what we need to hear and don't need to hear. Coach (Danna) does a good job of keeping us structured."
Out of the eight rounds GSW has played this year, six of them have been team scores of 300 or fewer. The Hurricanes' best round was a 279 in the final round of the Cougar Invitational, giving them a five-stroke victory. They opened that tournament in Columbus with a 290, which put them 13 strokes behind first-round leader Lynn before their amazing comeback during the final two days.
That 279 is the third-lowest score to par in Division II golf this past week. Individually, Griffin is tied for the lowest single-round score in Division II with a 66 he shot in the final round of the Cougar Invitational.
Gibson and Hall have each fired 68s, which is tied for the fifth-lowest score in the nation this past week.
And all of this success the Hurricanes have had in the past five weeks has been against some of the best teams in the country.
The Hurricanes defeated four Top 20 teams in the Kiawah Island Invitational and nine Top 25 teams in the Cougar Invitational, including No. 3 Lynn and No. 4 Barry.
"It's really hard to win these tournaments at this level because you have so many good teams. It's who plays well that week," said Danna, who added that last year's squad had trouble finishing tournaments. "The team chemistry is really good. They have been playing together for so long that they all know each other's games. They spot things in each other and are able to help each other out on the golf course and off the golf course."
On the course, the players are able to feed off of each other's success and keep each other focused.
Off the course, they are best friends -- a bond that has grown stronger the longer they have played together.
"We keep it light. We don't like to get all uptight and serious and tense. We are a pretty tight-knit group," said Gahman, who added that he has been known to keep long bus rides lively. "I'm going crazy (on the bus). I will come out of nowhere, and be like, 'Guys, we just won ... again. Whoa.' "
It was that first bus ride home from South Carolina after winning the Kiawah Island Invitational when the Hurricanes started to realize that their hard work and dedication could turn into unthinkable success.
But Danna's message remained simple: "Don't get caught up in the hype or think we are one of the best teams in the country. You want to act like you have been there before."
So the down-to-earth Hurricanes had their post-meet celebration dinner at Chick-fil-A.
"They could have chosen anything," Danna laughed. "So I punched in Chick-fil-A in the GPS, and it was like 15 miles out of the way. So I was like, 'You know what, we are going to drive those 15 miles out of the way.' ... If there is a Chick-fil-A in the area, we are going to stop at it."
And if there is a golf tournament in the area, the Hurricanes may just win it. GSW's only goal now is to sustain its success throughout the winter and into the spring season.
And hopefully add to that trophy collection along the way.
"Let's hope so," Gahman said about the possibility of adding shelves in his coach's office to house more awards.
"And an empty wall for plaques to hang, too."