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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, October 27, 2010

By Bethany Bradsher

ECU golf program on the rise

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

As his team pulled away from the Kilmarlic Golf Club after a record-setting victory at the OBX Intercollegiate on Tuesday, East Carolina golfer Harold Varner leaned in to head coach Press McPhaul and asked him, “How many days until our next tournament?”

The answer might not be welcome to a team so hot that it broke ECU’s three-round scoring record by 15 strokes en route to defeating 17 other teams for the OBX trophy. But the schedule says they have a break until Jan. 31, so McPhaul did the math and answered: “96 days.”

“OK,” Varner announced. “So we take off Christmas, and that means we have 95 days to get better.”

That’s the kind of confidence and drive that make McPhaul sure he is staring down a special spring season — with a group that has worked uncommonly hard and is finally figuring out how to translate that effort into a series of successful rounds.

“The guys, even last summer were really starting to gain confidence and show a lot of consistency,” said McPhaul, who is in his fifth season at the helm of the Pirates. “We played 12 rounds competitively this fall, and five of those rounds have been the low round of the day of the tourney."

The Pirates’ two previous tournaments, at Virginia Commonwealth and N.C. State, were a portent of their triumph at the Outer Banks, because in both events ECU led after the first round but wasn't able to hold the edge.

“It’s been coming together, and this time it all kind of clicked,” he said. “Actually, we shot the low round of the day each day this week. We got a lead and expanded it each day. They just kept their foot on the gas the whole time.”

The pacesetter for the Pirates was junior Harold Varner, who placed first in the tournament over some 80 other competitors. Like his team, Varner didn’t win small, prevailing over second-place golfer Matthew Broome of Furman by nine strokes. He also set his own ECU record for a three-day tournament, with his composite score of 196 besting the previous record-holder — Jonathan Hill in 2002 — by five strokes.

The other four Pirates who contributed to the tournament victory were David Watkins, Ryan Eibner, Zach Edmondson and Warren Straub, and one prevailed through tough rounds to contribute to ECU’s record-breaking performance. Straub, the squad’s only senior, birdied three of his last four holes on Monday afternoon to provide the team a vital boost.

It was the first multiday tournament win for Varner, but he is a perennial high finisher who has been poised for a breakout win for the past year, McPhaul said. Over one stretch of nine holes — his last five on Sunday and his first four on Monday — Varner shot seven birdies, an eagle and a par.

“He’s so talented,” McPhaul said. “He just needed a break, and he needed to figure out that he could actually do it.”

Varner, who was a second-team All-Conference USA selection and won an at-large bid for the NCAA East Regional in the spring, said that he and his teammates have just needed enough time at the top of the leaderboard to feel like they belonged there. And when they pack up their clubs for the Jacksonville (FL) Invitational at the end of January, Varner is confident that they will prove to the field there that they are capable of more than just one resounding win.

“I think we got nervous, because we hadn’t been in contention much,” Varner said. “But as we’re in contention more, we’re going to get more used to it. I think everybody knows we can compete with anyone now.”

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10/27/2010 02:38 AM

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