Golf hopes to satisfy sweet tooth at SECs

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Golf hopes to satisfy sweet tooth at SECs

Courtesy of UA Athletics

Courtesy of UA Athletics

Courtesy of UA Athletics

Courtesy of UA Athletics

James Ogletree, Staff Reporter

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Winning a trophy is sweet, but celebrating with a milkshake might be even sweeter.

A longstanding tradition for Alabama men’s golf dictates that every time the team or an individual player wins a tournament or shoots the low round of the day, the team must celebrate with milkshakes.

The tradition predates head coach Jay Seawell’s hiring in 2002, as well as his first coaching job in 1991. It started more than 40 years ago with Seawell’s 10-and-under basketball team.

Every time the team won a game, Seawell took his players to McDonald’s for milkshakes, establishing the motto “taste like a winner” that he still uses in his social media posts to commemorate each milkshake run.

“Ever since I got into coaching, the mindset is ‘you win something, you get a milkshake,’” Seawell said. “So it’s been part of my entire coaching career.”

Seawell said on Monday that he’s proud to have earned “a few” milkshakes at Alabama. That’s an understatement. Since 2002, Alabama men’s golf has recorded 42 individual wins along with the team’s 53 total victories, four SEC titles, 11 national championship appearances and two national titles.

The milkshakes don’t have to be from anywhere in particular – it’s just the first available place that sells them.

There is, however, a preferred flavor, at least for Seawell.

“The go-to is chocolate,” he said. “Chocolate always tastes like a winner.”

The team closed its regular season with a win at the Shoal Creek Invitational last week. The drive back to Tuscaloosa included some extra-large milkshakes, courtesy of sophomore Wilson Furr’s first collegiate win and the team shooting the lowest second and third rounds in the 15-team field.

After senior Davis Riley turned professional in the fall, Furr and sophomore Davis Shore were left as the team’s top two and most experienced players. But Shore has been sidelined for nearly two months with a hip injury and just underwent labrum surgery, which will keep him away from the course until the summer.

That leaves a burden on Furr to be both a reliable No. 1 player and a stabilizing leader.

“Wilson’s probably been the heartbeat and soul of this entire spring,” Seawell said. “He’s been an incredible leader. He was thrust into this role and has taken it very seriously. The maturation of him from February to now paid a huge dividend at Shoal Creek on Tuesday.”

Furr is rounding into form entering the postseason, just like he did last year. He recorded his first top-10 finish right before SECs a season ago, then followed it up with a second-round 63 at the conference championship, tying the second-lowest round in school history.

The course that hosts the SEC Championship, the Seaside Course at Sea Island Golf Club in St. Simons, Georgia, is a stern test that also hosts a PGA Tour event. It’s tough, it’s windy and it’s pressure-packed – which is exactly how Furr likes it.

“I love the place,” Furr said. “It’s demanding. I like those types of golf courses. You can’t fake it around Sea Island. That’s why they hold the SEC Championship there. I mean, it takes everything out of you.”

The tournament is longer than a regular season event, too. It consists of three stroke-play rounds from Wednesday to Friday to narrow the field from 14 teams to eight. Those eight are then re-seeded based on their stroke-play finish and placed into a single-elimination bracket for Saturday and Sunday.

Alabama is ranked sixth in the SEC by Golfstat and the Golf Coaches Association of America poll, so if it plays up to its ranking, it will advance to the second portion of the tournament.

The format for the bracket is match play, in which players compete head-to-head instead of against the entire field. The winner of each match is the player who wins more holes, not who uses fewer strokes. Each team has five players, so the team that wins the majority of the five matches will advance to the next round.

Different formats suit different types of players. Seawell says match play suits those who have the deepest drive to win at all costs.

“If I shoot 80 and you shoot 81, I still win, and that’s all that matters to a competitor,” Seawell said. “Match play is truly about just beating the person you’re playing and not really worrying if that’s pretty or not.”

Furr said, “Two things, I think, being able to make birdies is probably one of the most important things, and then second, just not giving holes away. … A lot of guys on our team are really good at that, so I think actually match play is one of our strengths as a team.”

Alabama’s starting five for SECs are a combined 7-9-1 in match play in their careers. Furr is the only one with a winning record (4-3-1). The team still has to advance through stroke play first, but it reached the final against Auburn last year as the No. 6 seed and has the momentum to, again, contend for a milkshake.

“You just want to get some momentum going into the end of the year,” Furr said. “It’s really the only time that really matters. It seems like everybody’s just doing the right things at the right time.”