The comfort level has improved dramatically for the USC Beaufort men's golf team as it embarks on its third NAIA National Championship today at TPC at Deere Run in Silvis, Ill.
The course will be familiar. The pin placements won't hold any surprises. They've already picked out their favorite spots for dinner.
But don't confuse comfort for contentment.
"The boys are excited," USCB director of golf Shane LeBaron said. "They've been waiting 11 months to get back here."
The source of that eagerness has produced both the comfort and the feeling of discontent for the Sand Sharks. They led by six shots at the halfway point last year before fading to fourth place, still the best finish at nationals in the program's brief history.
The feeling for the five USCB players who will tee off starting at 9:30 a.m. Eastern time today -- the same five who played at nationals for the Sand Sharks last year -- is that they left town a year ago with unfinished business.
"It's been weighing on these boys since we left here," LeBaron said. "They're motivated, they're excited and they're ready to play."
Among those five are three players competing in their last tournament for USCB -- Jon Pannone, George Thacker and Chris Lane II. They are joined by Jack Bingham and Luke McClellan.
The five spent last weekend playing in Highlands, N.C., in an effort to prepare for playing a course with elevation changes, as well as one with bentgrass and bluegrass rough, a rarity in the Lowcountry.
They also spent a good bit of time studying a yardage book for TPC Deere Run that Belfair resident Colin Swatton -- PGA Tour player Jason Day's caddie -- lent to LeBaron.
With that added edge, along with their experience and success at TPC Deere Run, the second-ranked Sand Sharks like their chances of finishing the job they got halfway done last year and adding to a season that already includes the school's first Sun Conference title in any sport.
"Right now, they're calm," LeBaron said. "They understand that golf's a marathon, not a sprint. We're going to do our best to get ourselves in a position where we're going to the final day with our hands firmly on the steering wheel."
Player Last year's finish Sun Conference finish
Jack Bingham T-38th T-26th
Chris Lane II T-26th T-26th
Luke McClellan T-69th T-11th
Jon Pannone T-14th T-2nd
George Thacker T-17th T-11th