The Darton’s men’s golf team has had its problems this spring but the Cavaliers know this is the week that counts as they play in the District IV tournament, beginning today in Melbourne, Fla.
MELBOURNE, Fla. — Shad Tuten isn’t ready for it to end.
If the Darton sophomore has it his way, today’s district tournament will be only the beginning.
The Cavs play the first two rounds of the NJCAA District 4 tournament today, which kicks off a grueling span of six competitive rounds in seven days that ends with the Region XVII tournament.
And Tuten can’t wait to get it started.
“We’ve gotten this far,” said Tuten, who is the seventh-ranked junior college golfer in the country and roommates with Joe Sakulpolphaisan — the No. 1 golfer in the nation. “The team has worked really hard this year, and I think we deserve this. We have hit three million balls at practice. We have put some sweat in the bucket.”
The Cavs need to finish in the Top 6 in the two-day, three-round district tournament to qualify for the national tournament for the 11th year in a row. The Cavs will have just two days to recover from the district tournament before hosting the Region XVII tournament at Stonebridge County Club in Albany.
“I am kind of mentally preparing myself (for the busy week),” Tuten said. “One thing I told the guys is to stay patient during this grueling week. I think that is going to be the biggest key to our success.”
It will be a tough week, but Darton coach Bill Jones III thinks his nationally ranked No. 5 Cavs are tough enough to handle it.
He knows his No. 1 golfer won’t be backing down from any challenge.
Sakulpolphaisan, a native of Thailand who finished tied for second at nationals last year, is playing the best golf of his life right now.
“Joe just shot a 66 in (Friday’s) practice round. Our next best score was a 72, and that was a good score,” Jones said. “He is the best player on our team and the best player in the country by far. But he can’t start thinking about stroke average or awards or he could lose his focus. I don’t see that happening though.”
Sakulpolphaisan and Tuten headline Darton’s lineup, which is rounded out by sophomore Austin McNeill and freshmen Chase Jones and Nick Green. Green beat out freshman Robert Robertson in recent qualifying rounds, and Tuten said his teammate is poised for a breakout tournament.
“You can lose it with (No.) 1 and 2 guys but you win it with your (No.) 3, 4 and 5 guys,” Tuten said. “The freshmen stepping up will have to happen (for us to win).”
Four of the 12 teams in the district tournament are nationally ranked in the Top 10, including No. 1 Meridian Community College (Miss.), which has had Darton’s number all season. The Cavs rallied from five shots back to beat Meridian for last year’s district title, but Meridian is 4-0 against Darton this season.
“We kind of have a grudge against them,” said Jones, whose Cavs have lost to Meridian by two shots twice this season. “They are the best team this year, and they have proved it. We are going to try to get them this week, but we can’t overlook any of those other teams either. It’s not a two-horse race.”
No. 4 Brevard (Fla.) and No. 8 Central Alabama also have hopes of winning district. Darton played Brevard in its first tournament of the spring and lost by 24 strokes, while the Cavs beat Central Alabama twice in three tournaments.
But the Cavs have started to peak at the end of the season and are coming off a second-place finish in the Lou Hart Invitational in Meridian, where Darton nearly upset the nation’s No. 1 team.
“I have played with just about every one of the guys (on Meridian’s team),” Tuten said. “They are good guys, but there is a sense of rivalry with everyone on the Meridian team. They only beat us by four at their home tournament. They were supposed to kill us. But us putting pressure on them all year should make them nervous.”