Freshman Jack Rhea grew up at Blackthorn Club and his family’s home is behind one of the greens. On Friday, he’ll be walking familiar fairways when the 20th Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate begins.
“I’ve been excited about this tournament since school started,” Rhea said. “I think we’re going to play well this weekend. We qualify out here so a lot of our guys have a lot of confidence here. A lot of us have shot low rounds here. We’re comfortable playing here and that means a lot.”
The 54-hole tournament begins Friday at 8:30 a.m. and continues through Sunday. The par-72 Arthur Hills-designed course will be playing 7,147 yards.
Virginia is the defending champion. The Cavaliers set the tournament scoring record last year with a 35-under-par total. They blew the field away with a record-breaking second round in which they shot 269, 19 under par. They wound up 13 strokes ahead of runner-up Missouri.
Penn State’s Charles Huntzinger is the defending individual champion. He tied the tournament record with a score of 13-under-par 203.
ETSU, which has finished second in this tournament three times, will go with a young lineup consisting of three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior.
Shiso Go, a freshman from Japan, is playing as the Bucs’ No. 1 golfer. He’s followed in the lineup by sophomore Kevin Burns, junior Geuntae Kim, Rhea and freshman Austin Carter from Kingsport.
Kim is the reigning Southern Conference champion and the only ETSU player in the top five to have competed in the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate. He finished tied for 24th last year.
Sophomore Trevor Hulbert and senior Cayman Ratliff will play as individuals this weekend. Hulbert, who won the Tillinghast Invitational at Johnson City Country Club in June, also finished tied for 24th at Blackthorn last year while playing as an individual.
Six schools in the 15-team field have won this tournament in the past. Four have won tournaments this fall.
Joining ETSU in this year’s field are Coastal Carolina, East Carolina, Furman, Kansas State, Kent State, Louisville, Missouri, Penn State, Tennessee, UNCW, VCU, Villanova, Virginia and Virginia Tech.
Four teams are ranked in the top-50 of the Golfweek/Sagarin ratings: No. 5 Missouri, No. 11 Tennessee, No. 17 Kent State and No. 46 Louisville.
Six players in the field are ranked in the top-100: No. 22 Ian Holt (Kent State), No. 42 Mark Lawrence (Virginia Tech), No. 49 Hayden Buckley (Missouri), No. 53 Gisli Sveinbergsson (Kent State), No. 61 Matt Echelmeier (Missouri) and No. 98 Rhys Nevin-Wharton (Tennessee).