The 1996-97 season was one of guarded optimism for the
Florida State program. Fresh off a trip to the NCAA
Championships, the Seminoles were poised to tackle a schedule
that featured many of the top teams in the country. Although
the Seminoles returned three golfers that played a majority of
the rounds last year, Coach Ernie Lanford was forced to
replace All-ACC performer Richard Fulford and deal with the
loss of George McNeill for the fall season.
With only one senior on the squad and a host of
underclassmen, Lanford relied upon young, experienced talent as
they entered tournament play. Steve Carrington, Jason Pool
and Barry Dyche all participated in the NCAA Championships the
previous year and were determined to repeat the same such
performance entering the fall season. Carrington came off an
excellent summer that saw him capture the Florida State Amateur
title. Pool and Dyche have been a mark of consistency for the
Florida State program, contributing in a combined 30
tournaments prior to the 1996-97 season.
Several freshman were worthy of the challenge, as three
true freshman saw action. The key contributor from the
freshman class was Gulf Breeze, FL native Nathan Bertsch.
Bertsch played in nine tournaments, including all eight in the
spring. With five top 20 finishes and a stroke average of
74.0, Bertsch established himself as a top 5 player of the
future for the Seminoles. Fellow freshmen Ryan Felty and
Matthew Raitz also saw tournament action in the fall.
The Seminoles opened the season with the Keswick Club
Classic in Charlottesville, VA. Junior Jason Pool, a native of
Great Falls, VA, returned home with an impressive showing.
Pool finished the tournament in fifth place with a three-round
total of 214, ten strokes behind winner Jason Buha of Duke
University. The Keswick Classic was an opportunity for Lanford
to experiment with his line-up and get an indication of the
young talent that this team possessed. Freshman Ryan Felty
played in his first collegiate tournament, finishing tied for
66th after a final-round 76. The Tribe finished in 10th place
out of 14 teams, one stroke behind the University of Alabama.
As the season entered October, the Seminoles traveled to
Tennessee for the Tournament of Champions. Held at the
prestigious Holston Hills Country Club in Knoxville, TN, the
Tribe finished in 13th place out of 15 teams. Another new
golfer was added to the top 5 as Mark Stillwell qualified for
his first tournament of his collegiate career. Stillwell
finished the tournament with a two-day total of 229 and a tied
for 66th performance.
In the third and final tournament of the fall, the
Seminoles participated in the difficult Country Club of
Louisiana Intercollegiate. The tournament featured eight
district teams and perennial powerhouses Houston and Oklahoma.
The Tribe used a tied for 14th place finish from Barry Dyche to
finish ninth. Dyche shot a low-round of 68 in the first round
to finish with a total of 218. The final tournament of the
fall also mark the first tournament of the year for Bertsch.
Bertsch finished tied for 19th with a three-round total of 220.
The fall season ended with some question marks. The
Seminoles were fortunate to get McNeill back in the spring, but
were still in search of a number five player. The Seminoles
and Coach Lanford solved that problem as the spring season
began. Bertsch established himself as a top 5 player with a
solid off-season of conditioning and practice.
The Tribe started the spring season with a trip to in-state
rival Florida for the Gator Invitational. Played at the
University of Florida Golf Course, the Seminoles fired a
second-round team total of 282 to pace them to an eighth place
finish. Jason Pool posted two sub-par rounds, finishing tied
for 11th, while McNeill returned to the Seminole line-up with a
top 20 finish. A native of N. Fort Myers, McNeill placed tied
for 20th with four other golfers. Robert Floyd captured the
medalist honors, one stroke ahead of Mark Northey of Georgia
and Jake Kransteuber of South Carolina.
After a week off, the Mercedes-Benz Collegiate Championship
was an opportunity for the Seminoles to return to their winning
ways. They did just that, capturing their lone team
championship of the year, beating Mississippi State University
by seven strokes. Three Seminole golfers all finished tied for
7th place with totals of 222. Jason Pool, Nathan Bertsch and
Steve Bradley all finished three strokes out of the lead, while
McNeill finished tied for 18th.
With the first victory of the year under their belts, the
Tribe participated in the inaugural Bridges All-American at the
newly-built Bridges Country Club. On a course designed by
Arnold Palmer, the Seminoles finished in fifth, eight strokes
behind the University of Minnesota. Steve Bradley recorded his
second straight top 20 finish, firing a final-round 72 and a
tied for 12th place finish.
The Seminoles enjoyed a break from classes by hosting the
Killearn/Seminole Classic at the Killearn Country Club. A
field of 18 teams traveled to Tallahassee for the sixth annual
event. Six of eight teams from the ACC were represented, as
well as teams from across the southeast and midwest. The
Seminoles rebounded after a slow start to finish tied for sixth
with Louisiana State University. The team total of 890 was one
stroke behind South Carolina and 17 strokes behind winner North
Florida. Dyche recorded his best finish of the season,
finishing tied for 5th with Martin duToit of Southeastern
After a fifth place finish at the Alabama Spring
Invitational, the Seminoles traveled to Augusta, GA for the
Cleveland Classic. The Seminoles finished in ninth place with
a team score of 887, one stroke behind Florida Southern
College. Nathan Bertsch led the team, finishing tied for 16th
with three other golfers.
With the subtraction of a fall tournament, the Seminoles
had the opportunity to play in the Billy Hitchcock
Intercollegiate in Auburn, AL. Led by Steve Bradley, the
Seminoles finished in eighth place out of 12 teams. Bradley,
a native of Ocala, FL, started with an opening-round 70 and
finished with a total of 219, tying him for 13th.
The last tournament of the year for the Tribe was the ACC
Championships. This year’s tournament was part of the ACC
Spring Weekend and was held in Atlanta, GA at the Whitewater
Country Club. The Seminoles finished the season with a fifth
place finish, 14 strokes behind fourth-place Virginia. McNeill
finished tied for 8th, while Dyche used a final-round 71 to
finish in 11th place.
Although the Seminoles failed to make the postseason,
several positive things were accomplished over the course of
the year. The Seminoles captured the team title at the
Mercedes-Benz Collegiate Championship. McNeill returned to
tournament play in the spring, leading the team with a stroke
average of 73.4 in 24 rounds of play. McNeill also led the
team with six top 20 finishes in eight tournaments, including
the 8th place finish at ACC’s.
The emergence of the freshmen was also a positive for Coach
Lanford and the Seminoles. Bertsch, along with Felty, added
much needed depth to the squad. Craig Cochran also showed
signs of life, competing for tournaments throughout the year.
With the tournament victory in Jacksonville and the
addition of young, talented freshmen this season, a blueprint
has been set for the future. The Seminoles will use the
experience from this season to return to the NCAA Championships
in future seasons.