April 21, 2012
McKINNEY - Senior M.J. Daffue will look to defend his individual crown and help the Cardinals to their 24th Southland Conference team title as Lamar University opens play in the 49th annual Southland Conference Men's Golf Championship this week from Stonebridge Ranch Country Club.
The 54-hole event will be played over three days on the par-72, 7,346-yard Pete Dye Signature Course at Stonebridge Ranch. The Cardinals will be paired with Southeastern Louisiana in the opening round with each team's first golfer set to tee off at 9:20 a.m. Monday morning.
"This is an extremely challenging golf course that has hosted the NCAA Championships and the PGA Qualifying Tournament before," said head coach Brian White. "I think it helps us to play a challenging course, but we have to get off to a good start in the first nine holes.
"There's strong competition in our conference. UT Arlington and Southeastern Louisiana have very good teams that have had good seasons. We are going to have to play well to win. Any time you play in a conference championship, the stakes are a little higher, but we look forward to good golf."
Daffue, the 2011 Southland Conference Player of the Year, defeated Central Arkansas' Jad Sinclair on the first playoff hole last year at Waterchase Golf Club to become the 18th individual medalist in Lamar history. No other school has had more than six individual winners at the Southland Tournament.
The last Cardinal to win individual medalist honors before Daffue was Dawie Van Der Walt in 2007. Daffue is also looking to become the first player to successfully defend his title since McNeese State's Tim Graham won three straight from 1977-79.
"M.J. is probably the highest rated player in the conference and he's looking for what would be his fifth win out of 13 tournaments," White said.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals had to settle for second place as a team last year. Lamar, which has won seven of the last 11 conference championships, has won 23 of the 37 times it has competed in the Southland Tournament. Defending champion UT Arlington is next closest on the list with four team titles in men's golf.
UTA served as the tournament host last year and won by 10 strokes over Lamar as the only team to finish under par (-2). The Cardinals came from behind on the final day to move past Southeastern Louisiana and into second place. It was the fourth time Lamar placed second at the conference tournament.
Lamar will enter the 10-team tournament as the highest ranked team in the latest Golfweek college rankings. The Cardinals come in ranked 56th in the country, followed by SLU (61), UTA (79), UCA (82), Sam Houston State (86), Texas State (93), UTSA (131), Stephen F. Austin (155), McNeese State (230) and Nicholls (238).
Since the middle of March, Lamar has played in five tournaments to get prepared for the Southland Championships. Included in the stretch were a win at the Border Olympics and a second place finish at the Wolfpack Spring Open in the Cards' last outing.
Freshman Luke Jerling, who will be playing in his first conference tournament, earned his first collegiate victory by winning the Wolfpack Spring Open at 5-under par. Jerling comes in third on the team in scoring average at 74.0 strokes per round.
Daffue, who has two individual titles this year to go along with two last season, has a team-best 73.1 stroke average. The native South African tied for 12th as a sophomore in his first conference tournament.
Fellow seniors Kevin Hesbois and Xavier Feyaerts will be playing in their fourth and final Southland Conference Tournaments. Hesbois is second on the team in scoring average at 73.9 and has two top five finishes this season.
In 2009 as a freshman, Hesbois helped the Cardinals to the last of their 23 team titles by tying for fifth place individually. He would add a tie for seventh as a sophomore and a tie for 13th last year.
Feyaerts, who was the 2009 Southland Conference Freshman of the Year, is averaging 74.3 strokes per round this year. He tied for 14th as a freshman when the Cards won the team title, dropped to a tie for 47th as a sophomore and then tied Hesbois for 13th last year.
Lamar's fifth golfer will be redshirt junior Erik Knudsen who tied for 21st at the conference tournament a year ago. Knudsen is averaging 75.1 strokes per round, but has not played in a tournament since the fall semester.