GREENWOOD – With an NCAA Tournament bid, a No. 1 seed in the South/Southeast Regional and a top-10 final ranking last season, the Lander men's golf team was already under a spotlight as the 2017-18 season approached.
That spotlight magnified with the announcment from head coach Chipper Bagwell two weeks ago that 2017-18 would be his final season with the Bearcats.
"I met with my team before we made the announcement and told them what I had decided to do," Bagwell said. "I told them, 'this doesn't change anything.' It's really not about me, it's about them and I want them to try and enjoy this year because I am going to try and enjoy it."
Lander, who enters the year ranked No. 17 in the GCAA Coaches Poll, returns four of its top five performers from last season. Reigning Peach Belt Conference Freshman of the Year Conor Richards (Hampshire, England) is back, along with senior James Bartlett (Brockenhurst, England), junior Michael Brodie (Perthshire, Scotland) and sophomore Jon Parker (Greenwood, S.C.). Other returners include redshirt-junior Garrett Atkinson (Toronto, Canada), junior Chris Kendall (Cumbria, England) and sophomore Roberto Garagorri (San Sebastian, Spain). The roster features a pair of newcomers; freshmen Cameron Bell (Surrey, England) and Braydon Evans (Oakville, Ontario).
The Bearcats' lone departure from last season was PBC Player of the Year Michal Pospisil, who led Lander with two tourament wins and a 72.33 stroke average last year.
"I don't really think that any one person can take Michal's place," said Bagwell. "We're really going to have to do it as a team and as a unit and we've talked about that. Everybody needs to step their game up. We have had seven or eight qualifiers up to now and I've been really impressed with our returnees."
The Bearcats open the year in Columbus, Ga., at the Cougar Invitational on Sept 25-26. In October, Lander takes part in the UNG Fall Invitational in Dahlonega, Ga. (Oct. 2-3), Copperhead Championship in Palm Harbor, Fla. (Oct. 16-17) and McDonough Cup in Orlando, Fla. (Oct. 30-31).
The spring portion of the schedule begins with the Spring Kickoff Invitational in Fleming Island, Fla. (Feb. 12-13), followed by the St. Leo Invitational in Lake Jovita, Fla. (Feb. 26-27). March features the Southeast Invitational in Valdosta, Ga. (March 11-13) and the Bobcat Invitational in Eatonton, Ga. (March 19-20) before Lander hosts the Bearcat Classic (March 26-27) at the Greenwood Country Club. The Peach Belt Championship will be played in St. Augustine, Fla., from April 13-15.
Lander was slated to open the year at the Jay Jennison Memorial in St. Augustine last week, but the effects of Hurricane Irma led to the tournament's cancellation.
"I would have liked to have gone primarily because we are going to play at the end of the year there on that course in the conference tournament," Bagwell said. "We were able to schedule in another tournament at the end of October so we are going to be able to play the same number of events and the competition is going to be just as good."
Lander finished in the top-five in eight of its 10 events last season, including a win at the Bearcat Classic and a second-place finish at the PBC Championship.
"Our goal has always been that we want to finish top-five in every tournament; that shows us that we are consistent," said Bagwell. "That will get us into the regional. Then we'll try to advance on to the national championships and we can see what happens there."