Caleb Surratt (Kevin Price photo)
finally broke through for a huge victory on the Georgia coast.
After having several strong performances end in near-misses on Sea Island courses in the recent past, the Tennessee freshman sealed the deal Friday afternoon at the SEC Men’s Golf Championships on the Seaside Course at the Sea Island Golf Club as he pulled away from the competition to claim the individual stroke-play title in the conference tournament.
The native of Indian Trial, NC fired a 6-under 64 in the third round to finish the stroke-play portion of the tournament at 14-under-par which was good for a six-shot victory over Kentuky’s Alex Goff who finished as the runner-up at 8-under. Goff shot 67 in Friday’s round on the par-70 layout that meanders through coastal marshes and plays along the Atlantic Ocean.
His 14-under score of 196 tied the second-lowest mark in conference history.
With the win, Surratt becomes the fifth player from the University of Tennessee to win the SEC individual title and the first since David Skinns won the conference title in 2005. He is the first freshman to win the SEC individual crown since Alabama’s Justin Thomas in 2012.
“It means a lot,” Surratt said about winning the conference crown in his first attempt. “Obviously, it’s a really big event. Myself and my team have done a great job of preparing for any moment, so today when I was leading to start the day I felt like I was in a really good spot to go out there and succeed.”
Surratt was last here in early January when he finished second in the Jones Cup Invitational at Ocean Forest Golf Club which is on actual Sea Island. The event is one of the top amateur tournaments in the world and kicked off the 2023 schedule in amateur golf. Surratt, playing in the final group, saw eventual winner David Ford make a birdie putt on the last hole to edge him by a stroke for the prestigious winner’s trophy.
Also last July, Ford won the Southern Amateur on the Plantation Course, which is part of the Sea Island Golf Club alongside the Seaside 18. Surratt battled for the win in that event, too, before settling for a fourth-place finish en route to winning the first Elite Amateur Golf Series for his stellar play in the biggest events in the amateur game last summer.
And back in the 2021 Jones Cup Junior Invitational played at Seaside, Surratt finished tied for the lead at the end of regulation play, but fell in a playoff to settle for the runner-up spot in the end.
On Friday, he stood alone atop the leaderboard at the end of the 54 holes of stroke-play which also set the field for the match-play portion of the tournament this weekend to determine the team champion. He got to add his name to an impressive list of SEC champions posted near the scoreboard after posing for pictures with the champion’s trophy during a short awards ceremony.
‘I feel like I’ve always played really well on this course,” Surratt said. “It’s just a good vibe. I love it down here. I just love being down here. It’s been different being with my team, though. It’s changed the vibe for the whole week. I’ve been able to enjoy my time off the course more.”
Surratt led by a stroke over Alabama’s Canon Claycomb going into the closing round. The Volunteers’ freshman started fast with birdies on his first four holes to seize control of the competition. He finished out his front nine with five pars to turn in 31 strokes. Surratt then made his first birdie on the back nine at the par-4 11th, and after six more pars, he closed out his bogey-free round of 64 with a birdie at the par-4 18th which plays 470 yards for the tournament to an elevated green.
“I made three 20-footers on the first three holes and I made a 10-footer on the fourth hole,” Surratt said. “I kind of went cold for like five or six holes. I hit a lot of good shots, but didn’t make anything. I had a huge par-save on 10, a great birdie putt on 11 and a huge par-save on 12 that kind of tipped me off. I knew it was gonna be a great day after those three went in. I definitely give a lot of credit to the putter, but it goes back to how we prepared and got ready.”
With Surratt leading the way, Tennessee finished first in the team standings after the three rounds with a 14-under 826 team score that included an 8-under 272 on Friday. The Vols, ranked No. 13 by Golfstat.com, overtook Texas A&M on the leaderboard and will be the top seed for match play.
“At home, we’re always playing and competing against each other,” Surratt said. “So tomorrow, it’s just the same thing, really. The reality is we’ve shown that our good golf the past three days, and not really even great golf the first day, is good enough to beat everyone here. So, we shouldn’t have to change anything. If everyone keeps their heads down, does their deal on every shot, I think we’ll be just fine.”
The No. 15-ranked Aggies finished just a stroke back at 13-under and will be the second seed. They led after the opening 18 holes on Wednesday and were tied with Alabama for first after 36 holes of the championship.
“The goal is to get to match-play,” said Brian Kortan, Texas A&M head coach. “They don’t give out a trophy for who wins stroke-play. Tennesee did a heckuva job, and we played near or at the lead for all three rounds. So, I’m proud of our guys. They dug their heels and hung in there the whole week. It was some pretty tough conditions teeing off the last two days. We’ll get some rest and be ready to go tomorrow.”
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More on the Champ:
Over the course of stroke play, Surratt led the field in birdies (16), par four scoring (-9) and par five scoring (-5). With his round one 64, round two 68 and final round of a bogey-free 64, Surratt currently has currently tied a program-best of 25 rounds of par or better in a season.
Surratt is from Indian Trail, N.C.. He was originally an N.C. State commit before re-opening his recruitment and deciding to play at Tennessee.
Record Breaking Performance:
The Vols' 14-under 826 marked the program's lowest 54-hole score in relation to par at the SEC Championships.
In His Defense:
Florida’s John DuBois won the individual title last season. This year, the senior for the Gators finished in a three-way tie for 16th at 1-under. He carded rounds of 69-70-70 for his 209 total.
Last year, DuBois shot 206 to win. His winning score included a 64 which remains his lowest round in collegiate play. DuBois also went on to go 2-1 in last year’s match play and made a match-clinching putt in the semifinals to send the Gators to the finals for the first time in the short history of the match-play format at the SEC tournament.
Ole Miss senior Sarut Vongchaisit was playing a long way from his actual home in Bangkok, Thailand, but he was only competing a few miles from his former high school this week.
Vongchaisit played previously at Frederica Academy, a private school on St. Simons Island, which has long had team members who are members of the Sea Island Golf Club. The team also gets access to the facilities at the club which promotes junior and prep golf.
Vongchasist played well this week in the familiar surroundings as he tied for 13th overall at 2-under. He had rounds of 69-69-70.
Sam Bennett, who made a splash at the Masters, was seen signing autographs for two fans as he left the 18th green after watching teammates finish their rounds on Friday afternoon. … Mississippi State wore black hats with “Mike” spelled out in white letters across the front in honor of the school’s head football coach Mike Leech who passed away suddenly last December. … Tennessee’s golf bags on Friday had the look of the famous end zones at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, with the orange and white checkered pattern that is synonymous with the Vols’ football field. … two holes-in-one were recorded during the 54 holes of stroke-play. The first came on Wednesday in the opening round when Alabama’s Thomas Ponder aced the par-3 17th hole from 176 yards. The second came on Friday when Georgia’s Ben Van Wyk aced the par-3 third which plays 204 yards on the tourney scorecard.
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No. 1 Tennessee vs. No. 8 Mississippi State
B . Lewis vs. F . Clegg, 7:30 a.m.
C . Surratt vs. H . Logan, 7:40 a.m.
J . Hall vs. A . Vukovits, 7:50 a.m.
L . Desmarchais vs. R . Pretorius, 8:00 a.m.
J . Hill vs. G . Endicott, 8:10 a.m.
No. 2 Texas A&M vs. No. 7 Missouri
D . Rodrigues vs. D . Springer, 8:20 a.m.
W . Paysse vs. A . Safa, 8:30 a.m.
V . Sadagopan vs. A . Bondesson, 8:40 a.m.
S . Bennett vs. J . Lundin, 8:50 a.m.
P . Maichon vs. C . Crockett, 9:00 a.m.
No. 4 Vanderbilt vs. No. 5 Alabama
C . Sherwood vs. N . Dunlap, 7:30 a.m.
W . Moll vs. J . Griz, 7:40 a.m.
M . Riedel vs. J . Cave, 7:50 a.m.
R . Davenport vs. T . Ponder, 8:00 a.m.
G . Sargent vs. C . Claycomb, 8:10 a.m.
No. 3 Florida vs. No. 6 Ole Miss
J . DuBois vs. S . Vongchaisit, 8:20 a.m.
F . Biondi vs. P . Samuels, 8:30 a.m.
M . Kress v.s B . Schell, 8:40 a.m.
R . Castillo vs. H . Townsend, 8:50 a.m.
Y . Lin vs. C . Tankersley, 9:00 a.m.
Shortly following the conclusion of the quarterfinals
Sunday, April 23