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‘Opportunity to prove a lot of people wrong’: Tennessee men’s golf prepares for spring season

Coming off one of the most dominant stretches in program history, the Tennessee men’s golf team has to band together to perform in the 2024 spring season.

With the loss of star sophomore Caleb Surratt to the LIV Golf Tour, the Vols are without their ace and will have to regroup for their remaining tournaments.

“It is a great opportunity for the rest of the guys to show that we are still one of the best teams in the country,” Tennessee head coach Brennan Webb said. “Caleb has got a lot of attention since he got on campus, and rightfully so, but these other guys also have elite resumes.”

On Jan. 30, Tennessee announced Surratt would be turning pro and accepting a contract with the LIV Golf Tour. He leaves behind — in just two years — one of the most decorated resumes in school history. Among the various accolades, Surratt is the first freshman to win the SEC Individual title since Justin Thomas and is the first All-American golfer in program history.

Even without Surratt, the Vols are still entering the spring season ranked sixth nationally in the Clippd Scoreboard rankings. Collegiate golf is played with a five-man team, and Tennessee still has extreme talent on the roster.

“Everything that’s important to win in college golf is in the spring,” Webb said. “We are just going to keep doing what we are doing.”

Among those elite talents is longtime Vol and Redshirt Senior Bryce Lewis. Lewis in his career at Tennessee is tied for first with program legend David Skinns for rounds of par or better over the course of a career with 67.

He looks to claim sole possession of that record in the spring.

“I am kind of just enjoying the last few moments with the guys,” Lewis said. “I am not taking anything for granted.”

Lewis will have to step into a leadership role and help his team excel to finish out the season and can do so through his play. Already this year, he has notched two top-10 finishes with his highest being third at the Fighting Irish Classic.

This team has already proven it can win without Surratt, winning their first home tournament since 2005 to begin the season at the Visit Knoxville Classic in September. Surratt only played one round and withdrew due to illness and instead of giving up, the team fired a 15-under score and surged into the lead.

Leading the charge was sophomore Evan Woosley-Reed posting a career-low 54-hole score of 9-under and finishing in fourth place

“The team here is great,” Woosley-Reed said during the fall season. “It’s one that I will never forget and always love.”

Consistency will be key for the Vols and finding a way to keep their team score low will be paramount. Lewis and Woosley-Reed both have shown flashes of dominance in the fall, but have to maintain their ability and prevent rounds from getting away from them.

Webb in his six years at the helm of the program has established what some coaches can only dream of — a resilient culture. Each member of the team considers themselves a part of a brotherhood that goes into every tournament with the understanding that they can work together to win.

Among those members is redshirt senior Jake Hall. Hall is a Knoxville native who has seen the program grow during his six years as a member of Webb’s team. The veteran notched his best 18 holes of golf in September with a 63 at the SEC Match Play Championship.

“How well we are able to get back together after a bad week is something every team has to work out,” Hall said during the fall season. “How close and how together we are when it’s good is great.”

Each year Webb has continually raised the bar for his program through recruiting top talent to Tenneseee. As the fall season concluded, the team announced another top recruiting class in the nation at 15th according to NBC Sports.

“We are sixth in the country in the rankings that were released today and I believe we will improve that throughout the spring semester,” Webb said. “The guys are going to view this semester as a great opportunity to prove a lot of people wrong.”

This team will not quit chasing history. Webb will rally his team to try and reach the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2021 while leaning heavily on the talent he has recruited and the culture he has cultivated.

The Vols are still vying for history trying to be the sixth team in program history to notch three wins in a single season. With four tournaments until the SEC Championship, nothing is off the table.

The Vols will begin the spring season on Feb. 11 at the Puerto Rico Classic competing against two other top-10 teams in Ole Miss and East Tennessee State.

“We are trying to kind of go to that next level and work on the mental part of the game,” Hall said. “Just in a short amount of time, I think a lot of us can see a big difference in our game. I am really looking forward to seeing what that looks like, to start off the season to kind of just go from there and see what we need to adjust.”

Tennessee will travel to Mexico, California and Virginia for tournaments as well this spring, culminating in the SEC Championship at St. Simons Island in Georgia on April 24.

“We want to make it as far as we can. We want to win the national championship,” Hall said during the fall season. “These tournaments are great to win but at the end of the day it’s all leading up to and gaining experience.”

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