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From CAA's To NCAA's: Harris and Kenney Lead the Way.

Courtesy: ODU Athletics
         
Release: May 08, 2003
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May 8, 2003

By DeAndre Phillips, Sports Information Student

Senior Geoffrey Harris has been the backbone for the Old Dominion golf team all season. So it was fitting that it was up to Harris to make the birdie putt to force a sudden death playoff in this year's Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Tournament at Independence Golf Course in Midlothian, VA.

Harris and freshman Nick Kenney each birdied in the sudden death playoff to defeat UNC-Wilmington en route to the university's first ever CAA golf title. The win also gave Old Dominion a berth in this year's NCAA Tournament.

"I rode out and told Harris he needed a birdie on 18," said ODU head coach Murray Rudisill. "He said, 'okay, I'll do it.' He likes the pressure. If I wanted anybody to have that putt, it's Geoff."

Four Monarchs finished in the top 20, freshman Gregory Sampson finished in 19th place, junior Christopher Kline and Kenney tied for 13th, including Harris' first place finish.

Harris became just the fourth Monarch golfer in school history to win a conference individual title, joining ODU Hall of Famers J.P. Leigh (1967-69), Alan Schulte (1984-85) and Jon Hurst (1989).

"Geoff has been the one stable factor," said Rudisill. "He has played almost every round very well."

In the wide-open game of golf, you have to score low, shoot sub par, and hit long shots in order to be the best. Though the circumstances of winning seem a bit ironic, nothing could be more true this season for the Monarchs.

Old Dominion, coming off consecutive disappointing seasons, were not favorites to win the division. In a preseason poll, ODU was picked to finish third behind UNC-Wilmington and Virginia Commonwealth in the 10-team conference.

"It was kind of interesting," Harris said about winning the CAA team and individual championships. "UNC-W was playing pretty well, but we knew we had a chance. All we had to do is stay in contention."

Contending is what Harris and the rest of the Monarchs did all season. Harris had top 10 finishes in 10 out of 12 tournaments he played in during the fall and spring seasons. He took first place finishes in the Matlock Collegiate and CAA Championship Tournaments and second place finishes at Birkdale Collegiate and Furman Intercollegiate Tournaments.

The 2002 CAA Golfer of the Year, who looks to be on his way to that honor again this season, is ranked 26th in the nation by Golfstat and has a 71.5 stroke average, third best in his district and best in school history.

Kenney was also a big contributor to the Monarchs' success this season. The Toronto, Canada native had solid outings at the Bradford Creek and Mission Collegiate Tournaments, where he finished ninth and tied for fifth respectively. Kenney also had three other top 20 finishes and hit a clutch birdie in the sudden death playoff hole to help ODU win the 2003 CAA Championship. Kenney should be contention for the CAA Rookie Golfer of the Year award along with UNC-W's freshman Toni DiBetetto.

"Nick has really been a bright spot," said Rudisill. "I think he's starting to mature as a player, and he has a really good golf swing."

According to Rudisill, the team's inconsistency almost took his team out of contention for the CAA crown. Putting and the mental aspect of golf were two problems the team had to overcome this season.

"For the most part, we've been inconsistent. We will have two or three players have good rounds and then we would have a couple of bad scores."

In college golf, a team is composed of five golfers. At the end of each round, the worst score is thrown out and the four best scores are added together to get the total. Most college tournaments are three rounds that are usually played on three different days.

"Golf is the most mental of all the sports," Rudisill said. "You have a lot of time for your mind to wander and get off track. Golf is not a reaction sport. You have more time to think about what you're doing. Your mind controls your body. It can make you do bad things with your swing."

"It's a fine line between good and great players," he continued. "Some golfers have the physical ability to be great, but some just can't handle the pressure."

Rudisill says that many of his golfers play very well in practice rounds or in "non-competitive environments." He also says when some players tee off, they begin to feel the pressure and don't perform as well as they could. "But everybody chokes," he said.

That has not been the case, however, for Harris. Harris, who advanced to the NCAA Regional Tournament with his first place finish at the CAA Tournament, knows all about pressure and playing against the best.

"I won't do anything differently," Harris said about playing in the NCAA Tournament. "I'm keeping with my same routine. When I change my routine is when I start getting in trouble. (Playing in the NCAA Tournament) doesn't bother me because I've played against a lot of great golfers."

Harris, who began playing golf at the age of five, has played in several prestigious tournaments such as the Palmer Cup. The Palmer Cup is a tournament that features the best amateur players from England and Ireland competing against the United States. Harris has competed against top U.S. amateur golfers such as Clemson University's D.J. Trahan, considered by some to be the top amateur in the country.

After college, Harris plans to pursue a career in golf either on the PGA or European Tour. If he does, he will join ODU graduates Jim McGovern and Joe Daley as the only ODU alum to compete on the pro level.

"Geoff is one of the best players I've ever coached, and I've had some really good players over the years," Rudisill said.

Rudisill is also making his first coaching appearance in the NCAA Tournament team competition. In his 28th season under the helm at Old Dominion, Rudisill is excited about the chance to compete for a national title. He also credits the team's strong performance at the CAA Tournament for the successful season.

"It's a big thrill to be able to go to the NCAA Tournament," he said. "We struggled all season, but the team came through at the right time. On paper, we aren't as strong as other teams, but we can pull it together."

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