It has not been the smoothest of seasons for the LSU men’s golf team.
Longtime coach Chuck Winstead, who led the Tigers to the 2015 NCAA championship, abruptly resigned in October after 19 years running the program, citing health reasons.
Assistant coach Andrew Nelson, in his fifth year at LSU, stepped in as interim coach, leading the Tigers to a team win in their fall finale in Little Rock, Arkansas.
LSU begins its spring season Monday in the Hal Williams Collegiate at Magnolia Grove Golf Course in Mobile, Alabama. Nelson said the players have been resilient despite the unexpected coaching change and that he remains optimistic as LSU points toward hosting an NCAA regional in May at The University Club.
“They’re handling it OK,” Nelson said. “It was not great in October and November. With some time and healing and team meetings, we are able to know where we are going. That this is what it’s going to look like.
“They’re in a good place now. They’re happy and excited to go and compete.”
Senior Connor Gaunt and freshman Jay Mendell from Ascension Episcopal in Lafayette were two of the Tigers’ top performers in the fall and lead the five-man group that will compete for LSU in Mobile.
Gaunt and Mendell were the only Tigers to play in all five of their fall events, with Gaunt posting three top-five finishes with a 72.92 stroke average. Mendell had a top-10 showing and a 72.00 stroke average.
Also playing this week are Baton Rouge native and senior Lance Yates, senior Drew Doyle and freshman Noah McWilliams from Benton. Also on the team from Louisiana are sophomore Luke Askew from University High, senior Nicholas Arcement from Thibodaux and redshirt freshman Holden Webb from Shreveport.
The Tigers have five spring tournaments before the SEC Championships, April 24-28 at St. Simons Island, Georgia. The NCAA regional at the U-Club will be May 13-15, with the Tigers aiming to qualify for the NCAA championships, May 24-29 in Carlsbad, California.
“I’ve watched enough other teams to believe that this is a top-20 team,” Nelson said. “But whether you’re ranked 30th or fifth you’ve got to go and keep playing.
“We’re in a good spot. It’s time to play at our home course and show who we are.”
Nelson, a native of New Jersey who played collegiately at Liberty, also knows the remainder of this season is a chance to show who he is. Nelson is not reluctant to say he considers the season an audition to take the “interim” off his title and keep the LSU job full time.
“I love Chuck and I’m thankful for him,” Nelson said. “I’m at LSU because of him, and I want nothing but the best for him and his family.
“I’m excited for the chance to coach this team. I was here with Chuck and got to recruit these players and now I get to step into this role. I’m thankful for this time and this opportunity.”
LSU MEN’S GOLF SCHEDULE
Monday-Tuesday Hal Williams Collegiate Mobile, Alabama
March 4-5 Lamkin San Diego Classic San Diego
March 11-12 Louisiana Classics Lafayette
March 24-26 The Hootie at Bulls Bay Awendaw, S.C.
April 6-7 Aggie Invitational College Station, Texas
April 24-28 SEC Championships St. Simons Island, Ga.
May 13-15 NCAA regional The University Club
May 24-29 NCAA Championships Carlsbad, Calif.