VIDEO: Randy Wylie Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – The 2019-20 campaign gets underway a little later than usual this week as No. 18 Carson-Newman heads to Columbus, Ga. to take on a stacked field at the Aflac/Cougar Invitational.
This is the latest start C-N has seen to a season since the fall of 2017 when its first event, also the Cougar Invitational, began on September 25. The season was originally supposed to begin on September 11 of that year at the Kiawah Island Invitational but impending weather cancelled the event.
"We've had a lot of practice," Carson-Newman coach Randy Wylie said. "We usually start a week earlier, so, really, just gave us more time to prepare and compete within our team for the starting lineup. It's been extremely competitive – the most competitive that I've seen to make the starting lineup.
"We have a pretty deep, experienced group and we expect to go down there, even though it's a really tough tournament, we expect to go down there and play well."
This is the third-straight season that the Eagles are competing in the event, garnering a sixth-place finish in 2017 before winning the tournament last year with a nine-under showing.
The 2018 win came with C-N carding a season-low 274 total in the last 18 holes for an 843 three-round total. The finish marked the lowest C-N 54-hole total since the University of North Georgia Fall Invitational back in 2015 when the Eagles shot an 840.
C-N will be in the midst of a stout 17-team field in Columbus this year. Of the teams there, all but two were either ranked or receiving votes in the first Bushnell Golfweek Coaches Poll of the year. Nine teams including Carson-Newman are currently in the top 25 of the nation, including No. 1 Lynn, No. 2 Barry, No. 4 Florida Southern and No. 5 Lincoln Memorial.
"This is an NCAA Regional Championship kind of field," Wylie said. "So, right off the bat, we're jumping right in the deep end of the pool. Fortunately, we have a pretty experienced team so I think they can handle that challenge right out of the gate."
Of the group that Wylie took with him last year, all but one person is back on the roster this season, that person being the newest Volunteer Assistant coach on Wylie's staff, Jake Headrick.
Tom Forster (Oundle, England), Jake Mynatt (Knoxville, Tenn.) and Fintan McKenna (Aberdeen, Scotland) will be making their returns to the field this season. Forster, the top-seed for the Eagles, will be playing in his third invitational. His best finish at the tournament came last year with a share of 12th-place after shooting a two-under 211.
The senior comes into the year following a 2018-19 campaign that brought third-straight All-South Atlantic Conference first team and PING/GCAA All-Southeast Region honors and a second-team All-American selection He led the Eagles with a 71.5 scoring average, starting in all 10 events they played in.
Mynatt and McKenna, the four and five seeds, respectively, will be making their second-straight appearances. Mynatt tied for 14th last season in Columbus at one-over. He concluded his debut season at C-N with a 74.1 average in 10 events en route to an All-SAC Honorable Mention pick. As for McKenna, he went to Columbus as an individual, tying for 53rd at 10-over.
Making their Carson-Newman debuts this week are transfer juniors Fergus Robinson (Towcester, England) and Alex Hodge (Knoxville, Tenn.). Robinson, playing as the No. 2 seed, comes to C-N from Keiser University. While there, he played in six events with a 75.42 scoring average. Hodge, the Orange and Blue's three-seed, comes from nearby Walters State where he was a runner-up at the 2019 NJCAA Division II Golf National Championship with a two-under 286, garnering All-Tournament and First Team All-America honors. He was a 2019 NJCAA Division II PING All-American and All-East Region selection.
The Aflac/Cougar Invitational begins on Monday with a 36-hole day before one final round of play closes up shop on their year's event Tuesday. Live scoring from the Country Club of Columbus will be provided by way of BirdieFire. A full recap with results of each day can be found on cneagles.com.