Fifth year Vanderbilt men's golf coach Scott Limbaugh has led the VU golf program to new heights. And the 36 year old Childersburg, Alabama native wants a lot more.
The Commodores have been to the NCAA Elite Eight Match Play the last 2 years and presently rank No.1 in the country in the rankings by Golfweek and Golfstat. In their most recent tournament on Feb. 28th, the Commodores finished 6th out of 15 teams at the Querencia Cabo Collegiate in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Tenth ranked Oklahoma State won it. The Dores started slow on day 1 shooting +10, but came back to shoot 4 under, and 5 under the next two days on the par 71 Los Cabos Querencia course. Vanderbilt senior and No.1 player Matthias Schwab shot 66 on the final day, so it was something to build on. Next up for the team is the Schenkel Invitational in Statesboro, Ga, March 17th-19th. The country is loaded with excellent teams and the SEC has 6 other teams in the top 27 in the Golfweek rankings as of this week. Florida is 2nd, LSU is 6th, A&M is 18, Auburn is 19, Georgia is 20 and Arkansas is 27. The SEC Championship will be played in Sea Island, Georgia, April 22-24th. The NCAA's start May 15th. The Dores will play one more tournament after the Schenkel, the Mason Rudolph, in Franklin, TN. on March 31st, then it'll be time to get prepared for the conference championship. So a lot to look forward to for Vanderbilt golf. Here's my conversation with Coach Limbaugh.
DW: I know in the fall you had a super season, ranked No.1, I know that's not your ultimate goal, being ranked 1 in the fall, but you gotta feel good about that.
SL: Yes we do. We knew in the fall that we had a chance to have a strong team with our top four players returning from a team that made the Elite Eight. We brought in 2 good freshmen. You never know how they're going to turn out with the transition, how they're going to mature, and get better. John Augenstein (freshman, Owensboro, KY.) has really been a guy who's stepped up and we knew he'd be a good player. He's been strong. He's done a great job giving us another strong player. That's kind of where we are.
DW: When you score in the spring do you take the top 4 or the top 5?
SL: We play 5 and we take the low 4 scores in each round. If it's par 72 then par for the team is 288 with the four scores, and at the national championship, we play four rounds of stroke play and they cut to 8 teams and play match play from that point on and the first team to 3 points advances (in match play).
DW: Talk about your veteran players, Matthias Schwab, (Sr. Rohrmoos, Austria), Patrick Martin (Birmingham) and Will Gordon (Davidson, N.C.). What do you like about those guys' skills?
SL: Matthias is Mr. Consistent. He's consistent as a leader and he's consistent as a golfer, and he's kind of where we start. Anything about Vanderbilt golf starts with him. The other guys have plenty of talent, but it all starts with Matthias. He sets the tone for our team with his leadership, and as a coach you have to be the coach and the leader, but so far this team has shown with Matthias being our captain and our leader, this team has shown Coach (Dusty) Smith and myself the leadership and that that they want to be a championship team. We've got to get a lot better and the guys understand that. But it's Matthias and junior Theo Humphrey (Greenwich, Conn.), who flies under the radar a good bit, but he has played some of his best golf for us when the lights were the brightest. Theo's played some big time round for us in the SEC and the regionals. He shot 66 in the final round of the regionals last year to help us advance to the national championship. He was 16th in the national championship (stroke play) last year. He hasn't been an All-American yet like Matthias, but he's shown some consistency. And Will Gordon and Patrick Martin of Birmingham (both sophomores), Patrick is a star, he really is. And the good thing about him is he doesn't really know it yet. He knows he's really good, but he's scratching the surface on how good he can be. But he's also a super consistent player, and he's got the right kind of stuff inside, that he's got a chance to be great and that's what he wants to be. That's where we are. Will's got all the flash you'd ever imagine. He's going to turn heads when he hits balls on the range. It's a pretty impressive deal. He's taken some great strides with his short game and maturity. Will's a super good player. Will and Patrick were 2 of 5 freshmen All-Americans last year. You know that sophomore year is always tough after you've had a lot of success, and that's the way it is all around the board in sports. But those 2 are high, high character young people. They're taking good steps this year.
DW: How does the conference look and how does the national landscape look in who are some key competitors for you this year?
SL: The SEC is probably as loaded as it's ever been. I would say that right now the SEC in golf is as loaded as college baseball. We're highly ranked, Florida, LSU, Auburn, Ole Miss, A&M, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, the list go on and on. The way we try to teach around here is let's just worry about us, we don't need to start worrying about those other rascals. All we can do is try to be a little bit better this week, and control our contollables here.
DW: Do you prefer any golf ranking?
SL: I would say Golfstat is the one the NCAA uses the most, so that makes the most sense going into the postseason. We've had the No.1 strength of schedule the last couple of years, and the Sagarin rankings on golf takes a little more of strength of schedule.
DW: With guys like Brandt Snedeker, Luke List and Jon Curran, that must be good for the program to have those kind of guys doing so well. Does that help the program?
SL: Yes. We happened to have Brandt on the TV on Sunday with Toby Wilt ( a huge supporter of the program in the Pebble Beach Pro-AM), it just goes to show what Vanderbilt University, Nashville and what our golf program is all about. Jon and Luke, Luke really played well in the fall. He hasn't played as well this year, so far. But he and Jon really stay close to the program. Brandt stays really close to the program. He was at practice every day last week before he had to head out to Pebble Beach, so he's around a lot.
DW: I know the goal is to get better every day, but what do you think it'll take for this team to reach the pinnacle, to get over the top?
SL: It's my job here to create the environment. The expectations are there. There is no way to shy away from that. I was fortunate enough to be around some championship teams at Alabama, and some championship players (as chief recruiter and lead assistant to Coach Jay Seawell, who won consecutive national titles in 2013 and '14). I like that and want that. I want to be the coach that lives in that moment, and I came here to this program to be that kind of program. We talk about it, we preached about it. Now within our program, I didn't stand up to them and say our goal is to be this. I said our goal is to be the very best team we can be this year. Now I think we're one of those teams this year that has the right kind of makeup to be a special team. But for us it remains we've got to be good each week. Our guys understand that. We're still a relatively young team. Matthias is a senior and Theo is a junior, but we've still got four sophomores and 2 freshmen. So, is John Augenstein going to keep showing steps in maturity? Will Gordon needs to be more of the player that he was last year, not like in the fall where he took a little step back. Is Theo going to keep maturing? All these things matter to being a championship team. But I don't think about that in the morning. I think about us getting better today and what kind of practice we're going to have today.
DW: Finally how does the schedule look? You have the No.1 strength of schedule in the country, is that what you want?
SL: Absolutely. Our guys want to play against the best teams and the best players at every school. The number one thing is we want to play the best courses. You look at the courses we played this fall, Pebble Beach, East Lake, Isleworth and we flew out to Houston where they play the Shell Houston Open on the tour in March. And we went down to Cabo to play a very tough tournament in Cabo with a field that was the top ranked field in the country last year. Then we go to Georgia and the Schenkel Invitational. Matthias is not going to be with us, because he's going to be in the Arnold Palmer Invitational (on the PGA Tour) which we're really excited about. He was voted by the other players on the Walker Cup as the winner of the Arnold Palmer Sportsman Trophy, so that kind of speaks to what kind of young man he is. Then we'll host our tournament here at the Legends Club in early April, then it's time for the SEC Championships and NCAA postseason.
DW: The competition nationally looks pretty strong doesn't it?
SL: Yes very tough. Oregon and Texas were teams we played at East Lake in the match play, and they're top teams. There are good teams everywhere.