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Ole Miss golf 2018: The Spoils of War

It is now time for our large, amateur golfin’ son to go beyond the wall.

Gray Hardison

Red Cup Rebellion is a golf blog now…at least it will be for the duration this spring as writer-crawlt-out-of-whatever-rock-he-was-under Bunkie Perkins loops for the Ole Miss Golf Team during their Spring 2018 season. This feature will preview the tournament, the courses, the Ole Miss golfers, and the field each week, but more in-damn-portantly, this feature will chronicle the exploits of Ole Miss’ REGINING, DEFENDING, NCDOUBLEA INDIVIDUAL LARGE ADULT GOLFING CHAMPION AND BY GAWD NUMBER ONE COLLEGE GOLFER IN THE SEVEN KINGDOMS... BRADEN THORNBERRY, FROM CLUBHOUSE OXFORD, FIRST OF HIS NAME, KING OF THE 19th HOLE AND THE FIRST TEE, MAKER OF BIRDIES, THE BREAKER OF PARS, THE RULER AND PROTECTOR OF AN EXPEDITED PACE OF PLAY…LONG MAY HE DRIVE.

The last time we saw our hero: Our LORD TEDFORD was left to fend off the oncoming hoards by himself at the NCAA Championships at Karsten Creek in Stillwater, as his Ole Miss golfing compatriots failed to make the finals by a single slot during the regionals. A tall task was set before him to defend his 2017 NCAA Individual Championship against a field of the best collegiate golfers in the country on the home course of top-ranked Oklahoma State. THORNBERRY has been the model of consistency during much of his Ole Miss career. Tournament in and tournament out he is likely the best golfer in the field and he’s asked not only to go low for himself, but to pull along his team with him. And for the past 2 years he has done that in historic fashion. Unfortunately for this one week in Stillwater, that consistency waivered a bit.

Our KING OF SWINGS, simply didn’t have his best game on display at the NCAAs. Karsten Creek is a difficult track. It’s long, and extremely tight. The rough was grown up to the point that anything off the fairway had the potential to be a lost ball. Unfortunately, TEDDY GOLF GAME just couldn’t keep it in the short grass consistently and spent much of his 3 days of competition scrambling to save scores.

I got the chance to go out to the course for his second round. It was a mixed bag for him to say the least. He only had one par on the entire first 9. He had 3 birdies and 5 bogeys featuring clutch putts, amazing saves, and multiple provisionals hit for potential lost balls. He did settle it down a bit on the second 9, registering a -1 score, to finish with a +1 total for the day. It really was an amazing round of golf to watch. It was clear OUR LORD didn’t have his best stuff. He was fighting his driver a lot that day, missing the fairway and finding himself in precarious positions a number of times.

But, it was the way that he handled those misses that was most impressive to me. He managed them. He didn’t compound his mistakes. He made great shots when he could, and took his medicine when he had to. The NCAA set up let you pretty much walk anywhere you wanted as a spectator, including walking down the fairway with the players. Such access really made those difficult situations fun to observe and I want to share one instance really briefly from the round that, I hope, illustrates just how special our guy is. On one particular occasion, he sliced his shot off the tee into the far right woods. We found the ball and, thanks to a fortunate placement, he was able to take relief from the adjacent cart path.

Even with the relief, any shot to the green seemed improbable at best. He was 135-ish yards away from the green, with two large trees right in front of him, blocking the path to the green. As I stood behind him, the only shot I could see was to take it under the trees and hopefully hit it with enough of a cut to run the ball up in front of the green. This is the shot mortals would hit. NOT THE GOD OF UNDER (Par). He proceeds to hit this looping wedge with a cut out of the heavy rough, up over the trees (he MAYBE had 25 feet to get the ball in the air and over two 50 foot + trees), and onto the green.

Coach Malloy turned back to me after he hit it and laughed. Just unreal stuff, even in a less than stellar round. As for the rest of the round, where his accuracy left him, his short game and putting certainly saved him. THORNBIRDIES showed some really nice imagination around the green and some truly spectacular putting down the stretch to bring that round in at the score he did.

It really is something to watch him putt. Like with most of his shots, he only gives it one, maybe two glances, and he’s good to go. He ran in putt after putt to keep the round on the rails. It’s just awesome to see.

However, as it would turn out, the +1 round I witnessed would be the high water mark for THORNBERRY’s week. He would end up registering 3 rounds of 78-73-77 for a final score of +12. That score left him on the outside looking in for the final round of individual play and any chance of defending his title. The 2018 title would go to unheralded Broc Everett from Augusta State. The unranked golfer would shoot a -7 under for the four days and survive a playoff with Auburn’s Brandon Mancheno to claim the crown. Just goes to show that it was truly anyone’s week from an individual standpoint.

The team title was less of a dramatic climax and more of a foregone conclusion as Oklahoma State, the host school and the undisputed best team in the country all season, proved their hype by surviving the quarters and semi-final match play to then go on and absolutely beat the brakes off of Alabama in the final, winning all 5 matches going away. That is the 11th Team National Title for Oklahoma State and their first since 2006.

Who sits on the Throne?: This was THORNBERRY’s final season as a Rebel. He hasn’t said it, but the Junior should and likely will go pro after the summer. He plays in the US Open Sectional qualifying this week. He plays in the Fed Ex St. Jude Classic in Memphis next week (June 7-10) (GO SEE OUR LORD IN MEMPHIS, GOOD REBELS!). Then its off to France to represent the United States in the Palmer Cup. After that, likely a tournament exemption or two and eventually Tour Q school. Before I look too far ahead in LORD THORNBERRY’s potential pro career, I did want to discuss his place in Ole Miss athletics history…

BRADEN THORNBERRY is the best golfer to ever play for the University of Mississippi. Period. The argumentative types are going to throw Cary Middlecoff in my face. Middlecoff was the school’s first golf All-American and went on to become a PGA Hall of Famer with two US Open wins and a Masters victory. But. we are talking the modern golf era here. Hell, Ole Miss’ own record book doesn’t even go back to the Middlecoff days. THORNBERRY’S career vastly surpasses anyone that has played for the school in almost 100 years.

He is the #1 ranked amateur golfer in the entire world. He is a two time All-American. He is the only Ole Miss golfer to ever win a NCAA individual title. He is the only Ole Miss golfer to ever win the Haskins award as the nation’s top golfer. He is the only golfer from Ole Miss to ever play in the prestigious Walker Cup. His 11 career victories are the most by an Ole Miss golfer all time, by 4 victories.

He has the lowest stroke average of any Rebel golfer ever. He is 1st, 2nd, and 3rd for lowest tournament rounds ever by a Rebel. He’s finished in the Top 5 and Top 10 more often than any Ole Miss golfer ever. He’s the best to ever play at Ole Miss. Middlecoff may end up having a more prolific pro career, but no one was better while in Oxford than BRADEN BY GOD THORNBERRY.

Epilogue: I had an absolute blast following the team this Spring. Historically, Ole Miss has not been a golf school. The SEC is one of the premier golfing conferences yet the Rebel Program, for a myriad of reasons, has lagged. That is seemingly changing season by season under Coach Chris Malloy. Malloy, a former Rebel golfer himself, is building something in Oxford.

To compete at the college golf level, you need great players, and golfers like THORNBERRY show that Malloy has been able to recruit to that need for the past few seasons. In order to recruit more of those types of players, you need competitive facilities. Oklahoma State just won their 11th national title. They have amazing facilities at Karsten Creek. Ole Miss needs to improve their facilities to get to that competitive level…and they are doing just that.

Having a premier practice facility will help recruit higher caliber players and help build that depth the team needs to compete nationally. I have great confidence in Coach Malloy’s ability to do that given the necessary support and tools with which to compete.

All that said, if you enjoyed the recaps, I encourage you to support these guys moving forward. The program is heading in the right direction and your encouragement will only help that effort.

To the guys on the team this year, thanks to those of you who reached out to say you enjoyed the recaps. I enjoyed following you guys every week. Let’s tee it up sometime soon. Thanks to the Ole Miss golf social media and video staff for your coverage. These recaps couldn’t have been done without your excellent work. Finally, thanks the The Cup, and especially Jim, for letting me tag along on the site this Spring and write ridiculous Game of Thrones golf fan fiction. I’ll be back with some Fall golf missives if and when they let me.

Thanks for reading.