By Matt Hill
Tony Wallingford has a thing for advancing to national tournaments.
The Milligan head men’s and women’s golf coach and former head men’s basketball coach will now be coaching in his fifth national tournament — and his first as women’s golf coach.
What is so impressive about this accomplishment is it is only the second year of the women’s golf program.
Wallingford has taken now his third different program to a national tournament, but he says he can’t take credit for any of it. He’s been fortunate good athletes have wanted to come to Milligan.
“It’s about getting good players,” he said. “That’s certainly the key to that.”
Milligan College has many good women’s golfers who bought in to what Wallingford wanted to achieve when he started the program two years ago. Now this young up and coming program has already arrived on the national stage by winning the NAIA qualifier.
“To have a milestone like winning the conference and then winning the qualifying tournament is great for our program,” Wallingford said. “We’re not exactly competitive at a national level, but for this group the accomplishment is getting there, and then the experience of being in the national tournament, will help us as we come back next year.”
The Lady Buffaloes were second in the league last year, but with everyone coming back and some key additions, this team became the one to beat in the Appalachian Athletic Conference and then they took that next step forward.
“To get to the national tournament, it’s going to be a tremendous experience for young girls,” Wallingford said. “At that tournament we will have two sophomores and three freshmen, so I think this will only make us better.”
When the program began, Coach Wallingford had to make a major sell to young ladies and their families about coming to play golf at Milligan. Wallingford went out and got kids with good Christian values who wanted to get a top-notch education, both things Milligan prides itself in.
Later, Wallingford really pushed being part of a new program where they could play right away. All of these things added up to a recipe for success.
“We sold them on an opportunity to be the first women’s golf team and that’s how it got started and the next class was the same way. From there we sold Milligan College and what it stands for.”
Another selling point was having three public courses, including the Buffaloes’ home course of Elizabethton Golf Course, as well as Pine Oaks and Buffalo Valley all being within 10 minutes of Milligan’s campus with other courses all around the Tri-Cities region that are open to the public open to play as well.
“I have friends who coach college golf who have to drive 30 or 40 minutes to get to their home course, and Elizabethton has been great and many of the other courses have opened up to us and have offered a chance to play at their course one day a week to give us some variety. That’s been a positive”
The Milligan women’s golf team includes Elizabethton’s Emily Harris, Brittany Branker, Kaitlyn Harville, Summer Heath, Kayla Kmetz, Madison Smith, Sabrina Smithson and Samantha Smithson.
“Brittany is our No. 1 player and she finished in the top 10 in seven tournaments, and she was the medalist in two,” Wallingford said. “She’s been a super nucleus for us.
“Kaitlyn Harville and Kayla Kmetz are two sophomores who were with us last year and they made all conference as well. Those three were the all-conference players.”
With Milligan ranked No. 39 in the latest NAIA coaches poll, don’t expect a national championship to be brought back to the Milligan/Pinecrest community of Carter County, but do expect the Lady Buffs to battle hard on the golf course and make this area proud.
“We expect to do our best,” Wallingford said. “Where we finish we finish, but we’re excited to be there with two sophomores and three freshmen in the program. We want to make sure we do our absolute best.”
MCILRORY TO RETURN TO PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP
After the Masters, my favorite professional golf tournament might be the upcoming Players Championship.
It’s not considered a major, but it is the so-called “Fifth Major.”
No major championship has a hole quite like No. 17 at the TPC Sawgrass where it has swallowed the championship hopes of many players.
However, there was one guy who didn’t show up last year that was well missed. He’s back in 2012.
Rory McIlrory went back to Europe last year, but will play in the event May 10-13.
I won’t condemn McIlrory for what he did because I do admire him for what he’s accomplished at a young age and the class he presents to everyone around him, but he really needs to be in this tournament.
This is the only non-major that people do remember during the year and though it’s not really a major, it might as well be.
I’ll never forget when Phil Mickelson won this tournament and the joy he felt. It would be nice for McIlrory’s sake if he was able to experience that joy as well.
Yes, McIlrory has a U.S. Open title, but a Players Championship would give him the confidence he needs in his quest to repeat as champion on Father’s Day.
Whether he wins it or not, just having him in the tournament gives this tournament more validity as “The fifth major.”
RED TAIL TO HOST OPTIMIST CLUB GOLF TOURNAMENT
Red Tail Mountain Golf Club in Mountain City will play host to the Johnson County Optimist Club Golf Tournament on Wednesday, June 20 beginning with lunch at noon outside the clubhouse with a shotgun start at 1 p.m.
For more information, contact Tom Reece at (423) 727-2541.
Matt Hill is the golf and tennis columnist for the Elizabethton Star. You can reach him via email at email@example.com