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The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Men’s golf team’s quest for a fifth SEC championship comes up short

Courtesy of UA Athletics
Alabama Golfer JP Cave in action at the Watersound Invitational at Shark’s Tooth Golf Course in Panama City Beach, FL on Wednesday, Feb 21, 2024.

The Alabama men’s golf team’s quest for the program’s fifth SEC title came up short at the hands of the No. 1-seeded Auburn Tigers in the first round of match play.   

After a hot start to the individual portion of the men’s golf SEC tournament, Alabama fell to the Tigers after dropping the final win it needed to get to the semifinals. 

Alabama came into the SEC championship playing some of its best golf of the season. Its lineup of Canon Claycomb, Thomas Ponder, Jonathan Griz, JP Cave and Jones Free had collected three top five team finishes in their last four events of the regular season.  

Momentum was on the side of the No. 9-seeded Crimson Tide heading into the tournament, which took place at the Sea Island Golf Club in St. Simons Island, Georgia.  

“This is the best week of the year,” head coach Jay Seawell said. “This is always a tough week, but a great week.” 

The Crimson Tide competed in a 54-hole tournament from Wednesday to Friday, where the top eight teams remaining qualified for the match play portion on Saturday and Sunday, with the winning team claiming the team championship.  

Day 1 saw all five of UA’s golfers within four strokes of one another, but Ponder led the way with a 1-under-par 69, tying 18th overall.  

Both Claycomb and Griz carded 1over-par 71s, while Cave and Free shot matching scores of 2-over-par 72. Their team score of 3-over-par 283 had the team in a tie for ninth overall, and to make it to the team championships it needed to move up at least one more place.  

By Thursday it had done exactly that, as it improved by 11 strokes from its team score on Thursday and shot a team score of 8under 272. This was the second lowest team score of the day, and as Alabama moved into solo seventh place overall, Ponder led the charge with 4-under-par 66 and tied for third overall in the individual competition. 

On Friday, all the Crimson Tide had to do was hold its spot to punch its ticket to the match play portion of the SEC Championship, where it would have the opportunity to win its sixth conference title.  

Led by the efforts of Griz, who earned a top 20 finish in individual stroke play and fought back from a triple bogey on his second hole of the day to shoot a final round 3-under-par 67, the team shot a 3-over-par 283, earning eighth place after 54 holes.  

With that finish, Alabama advanced to the match play championship and had a date with not only the No. 1 seed in the SEC tournament but the No. 1 team in the nation, the Auburn Tigers, Saturday morning in the quarterfinals.  

“It’s really hard to get to reach match play, and I thought we battled hard to earn our place here,” Seawell said. 

Both Alabama and Auburn put all five of their golfers out on the course in five different individual matches. Each match was worth one point, meaning three match play victories were all Alabama needed to advance to the semifinals. 

Cave was the first one on the course, taking on Auburn’s Brendan Valdes. In a back-and-forth battle where neither golfer led by more than two holes, the two were tied at the end of 18. Finally, on the 20th hole of the match, Cave birdied to put the first point on the board for Alabama.  

Next out was Griz, who despite trailing the entire match with a deficit as broad as three pulled out a final-round effort Friday that helped Alabama punch its ticket to the quarterfinals 

Alabama won its first two matches, though those were the team’s only two wins in the quarterfinals. 

Claycomb drew Auburn’s Jackson Koivun, who won the individual tournament, and lost 1-down on the 18th green.  

Ponder, who was unable to grab a lead the whole morning, dropped his match 2 and 1 to Auburn’s J.M. Butler.  

Free, who was able to take the first hole from Auburn’s Josiah Gilbert, wound up losing 4 and 3.  

Though the result wasn’t what Seawell desired, he was proud of how hard Alabama fought against such a formidable opponent. 

“We took on a very good Auburn team and looked down-and-out but rallied,” Seawell said. “The fight they showed today in match play was incredible, and it really earned my respect.” 

On Wednesday afternoon The Crimson Tide was selected as the No. 2 seed in the Chapel Hill Region of the NCAA Men’s Golf Championships.  

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