Former Lee County High School star and Herald Player of the Year Nate Gahman will close his college career this week as he plays for Georgia Southwestern State in the NCAA Division II National Championships. (Georgia Southwestern/Special to The Herald)
HERSHEY, Pa. — Nate Gahman calls himself “not your regular golfer,” saying he’s never been the one to eat, breathe and sleep the game in which he is becoming a star.
And it’s that approach that might give the Leesburg native and Georgia Southwestern senior a shot at a national title this week.
Gahman, a former Herald Player of the Year and the last GSW athlete competing this spring, tees off today as an individual in the NCAA Division II Men’s Golf Championship at Hershey Country Club, leaving his final mark on a program that he has helped put on the national stage.
It’s his easy-going attitude that could give the Hurricanes even more exposure this week.
“With Nate, he isn’t really the type of guy who psyches himself out,” said GSW first-year coach Darcy Donaldson, who believes Gahman’s swing is as good as any on the PGA Tour. “And that could help him out in a tournament like this. I think he can do really well.”
Gahman is ranked 62nd in the country with a 73.6 scoring average and has been the No. 1 golfer all year for the Hurricanes, who had their most successful spring season in school history, winning the 17-team Spring Kickoff Intercollegiate and finishing a program-best fourth in the Peach Belt Conference Championships.
And Gahman always found himself in contention, finishing in the top two on his team in nine of 10 meets.
He’s coming off the three-round South/Southeast Regional, where he finished eighth as an individual at 3-over par and beat Belmont Abbey College’s Adam Hedges and Barton College’s Daniel Claytor in a sudden-death playoff to advance to nationals.
Gahman is one of eight individuals in the nation to receive an at-large bid and is looking to raise the bar set last year by teammate J.P Griffin, who finished ninth overall.
“I definitely think I have the ability to win, but it’s all about how I manage my game,” Gahman said. “I have the game. It’s just a matter of putting it all together.”
Gahman has slowly been piecing together his game since teaching himself how to play growing up, molding his baseball swing into one that is nearly perfect on the golf course.
“I am probably the farthest from technically-sound as it comes for a golfer,” Gahman said. “It’s a homemade swing, but it gets the job done. I never really had somebody teach me. I taught myself, and when I get too technical I start thinking of angles and numbers. My swing has never been the problem. It’s my putting that has been the problem.”
But that’s where Donaldson comes into the picture.
Donaldson, a former star at Concord University and an All-American in 2006, not only specializes in the short game, but he was an assistant coach at Concord last season when the Mountain Lions played at Hershey Country Club in the Super Regionals.
“And the thing about going with just one individual is that I will basically be his caddy,” Donaldson said. “I will do everything but carry his bag. My strength is putting, and he thinks that will be very beneficial for him.”
Donaldson, who replaced current Lynn University coach Andrew Danna as head coach of the Hurricanes, is also good at keeping Gahman loose on the course.
“Other players need to always think about it and be technical, but Nate is a guy who can take his mind off of golf when he’s not playing,” Donaldson said. “As far as on the course, I just try to keep him relaxed.”
Gahman has the lowest scoring average on the team by more than a stroke and has lowered his putts-per-round as the season progressed. He believes that if he can transition from putting on Bermuda greens in the south to Pennsylvania’s bent grass green, then he can turn some heads the next three days.
“I have always had my bouts with putting, but that has evened out in the spring,” Gahman said. “I am hitting the ball well. The last two weeks (since regionals) I have just been taking it easy and having light practices. It feels strange being the last athlete from our school left this season. I feel blessed to go up there.”