Webb, who played golf at East Tennessee State, is in town this weekend as Tennessee’s head coach. The Vols are in the field for the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate at Blackthorn Club, which runs Friday through Sunday.
“It’s really cool to be back,” said Webb, who was a member of the ETSU team in the mid-1990s. “I’ve seen a few old friends. It’s been nice, kind of a cool energy. I’m looking forward to being out there and seeing more friends.”
Webb’s collegiate playing career ended in 1996 and when he graduated in 1997, Blackthorn Club had just opened as The Ridges. He got to play the course for three or four months, a time during which he became pretty familiar with the nuances of the Arthur Hills layout.
He said he’ll try to impart that experience to his players, although “They hit it like 80 yards further than I was hitting it then,” he said.
The Vols won their first two tournaments with Webb as coach before finishing eighth in their last tournament at North Texas. Tennessee has won the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate three times, most recently in 2009.
“I expect us to play pretty well,” said Webb, whose team is ranked sixth nationally, the highest ranked team in the field. “We didn’t have a very good week in Texas. I think the guys are ready to get back on the horse. I think we’re going to be right there in the end.”
Webb had been an assistant at South Florida and Georgia Tech before becoming head coach at Middle Tennessee State. When Jim Kelson stepped down at Tennessee, Webb was a natural fit for the position, considering he coached MTSU to its first Conference USA championship, took his team to two NCAA regionals and was the C-USA coach of the year. And he did it by successfully recruiting in Tennessee.
“Obviously, it’s a job I kind of had visualized in my mind that if it ever came open, it would be a place I would love to go and and finish my career,” Webb said of Tennessee. “I feel fortunate to get that opportunity. Hopefully I get to be the coach for a long, long time.”
Tennessee will be grouped with ETSU and Penn State for Friday’s first round. They start at 10:10 a.m.
“I’m delighted for Brennan,” ETSU coach Fred Warren said. “He’s doing a great job. It’s always good to see former players succeed. He’ll do things at Tennessee that, in my opinion, have never been done. I’ve always been proud of Brennan.
“That doesn’t mean we don’t want to finish ahead ahead of him.”
Penn State is the defending champion. The Nittany Lions’ 54-hole total of 31 under par was the second-lowest score in the tournament’s 20-year history. Missouri’s Hayden Buckley set the tournament scoring record while winning last year. He posted a 199 total, 17 under par. Included in that was a second-round 64.
ETSU’s Shiso Go set the tournament record with a second-round 63 last year. He birdied the final hole to complete his nine-under-par gem. Go recently competed in the Asia Pacific Championship in Singapore, where he finished tied for 30th.
Jack Rhea was the Bucs’ highest finisher last year, tying for fourth on his home course. Rhea shot rounds of 70, 65 and 71 to finish seven shots behind the winner.
Through three tournaments this fall, ETSU has three players averaging under 72 strokes per round. Rhea leads the way at 70.67, while Go is at 71.67 and Geuntae Kim is at 71.78.
“We’re actually pretty good at the top,” Warren said. “We’re getting better. You need four scores and we’re working on it. It can be a little frustrating when you have three guys playing well, but I think we’re moving in the right direction.”
ETSU has finished second three times in its home tournament but has never won it.
Other ranked teams in the 14-school field this week are No. 12 Louisville, No. 15 Penn State, No. 44 Virginia Tech and No. 50 Kent State.