Darton golf eyes success in first spring under Jones

Shad Tuten is one of three sophomores who will lead the Cavs today in Melbourne, Fla.

Shad Tuten is one of three sophomores who will lead the Cavs today in Melbourne, Fla.

MELBOURNE, Fla. — Before the Darton golf team even stepped off the bus in Melbourne, Fla., for its first tournament of the spring, first-year coach Bill Jones III could tell they were ready to play.

“Usually they are pretty quite, but they weren’t this time,” said Jones, whose Cavs tee off in the Titan Winter Invitational at Suntree Country Club today at 8 a.m. “They were really excited, like happy-go-lucky kids in a candy shop. They are definitely ready to go.”

The Cavs, who are ranked No. 7 in the NJCAA Division I poll, will be led by sophomores Austin McNeill, Joe Sakulpolphaisan and Shad Tuten.

The trio helped the Cavs place in the top three in all four of their tournaments in the fall, and Tuten said the team is ready to pick up right where it left off.

“It’s unreal how ready we are for this tournament,” Tuten said. “We are hitting balls straight down the fairways and hitting great shots to the greens. The chemisty that this group of five has is pretty immaculate. We are pretty good together and enjoy each other’s company a lot.”

Freshmen Chase Jones and Robert Robertson will be joining the three sophomores in the two-day, three-round tournament, which has a field of 15 teams, including several four-year programs.

The Cavs have seven players on their roster — the five playing today and freshmen Neil Graham and Nick Green — and Jones said it was difficult to pick just five to represent Darton in the opening tournament.

“But once we did pick our team, the last days of practice were intense on short game and course management,” said Jones, who took over the head coaching job from Dale Dover, who is now the Director of Golf Operations at Darton. “We really had a couple of good days of practice before we came down here.”

The Cavs are hitting the ball significantly better than they were at the beginning of spring practices on Jan. 10.

“Coach Dover and I are pretty confident,” Jones said. “If you would have asked us a couple of weeks ago, we may not have been this confident. The last two weeks of practice have been really good. They understand how important this tournament is, and they are ready to get back out there. They are in this to compete and win.”

Tuten expects nothing less than first place in the tournament.

“You can’t win them all if you don’t win the first one,” he said.