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Making the Palmetto State Proud

For the better part of the past decade, the Clemson Tigers have been one of the nations best college golf teams. Capped off a year ago with the programs first national championship, Larry Penleys troops have ruled the roost in the state of South Carolina. But after what I saw on Tuesday at the Mercedes-Benz Collegiate Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, there may be another school taking some exception.
The South Carolina Gamecocks have been a solid top 25 team for several seasons, with the occasional break-out campaign. But usually in the end, it was the Clemson Tigers taking home the headlines and the hardware. Perhaps head coach Puggy Blackmon has found the right mix to cause a little noise on the national scene.
Fresh off a surprising 27 shot victory at the Mercedes, South Carolina gets the nod for the early surprise of this spring season. As Blackmon told me, A top five finish against such a strong field would have been great, to win by one would have been amazing, to win by 27, unthinkable, and even that is an understatement.
Blackmon added, To go toe to toe with the defending national champions, and not blink an eye tells a lot of what this team is made of. He certainly doesnt have to convince me, after their record setting performance. This gamecock squad is a nice blend of veterans and youth, international players and local boys.
Sophomore Eirik Johansen, a proven commodity for the gamecocks finished in a tie for second, and with it earned player of the week honors in the SEC. But it was perhaps the player who hadn't seen much action in the his time at South Carolina, who caught my attention. Jake Thompson earned his way into the starting lineup for this early spring event, and made the most of it finishing in the top five. Blackmon referred to Thompson's performance as comparable to Ben Curtis winning the Open Championship. Martin Rominger and Alex Hamilton also posted top 10 showings for USC.
Only time will tell just how far this victory will catapult the team as the spring moves along. But knowing how heated the Carolina/Clemson rivalry is, USC will always have in the back of their minds the drubbing they gave many of the nations best, including Clemson at the first big event of 2004.
With that said, the Palmetto state now has two reasons to be proud for college golf, and who knows, maybe another national championship will head to South Carolina, but this one may end up in the state capital.