E.A. Sports Today

Golf notes: Back on course

McNeal returns to competitive golf, confident about winning this season



By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Cole McNeal is back on the golf course and he has big plans for his return.

A few years ago McNeal was a long-haired, long-hitting left-handed high school player with a freewheeling style that had everyone comparing him to Masters champion Bubba Watson.

A trip “down the wrong path,” however, kept him off the tee sheet and local golf radar for nearly two years. He returned to competitive golf for the first time last week in the King of the Hill tournament at Anniston Municipal determined to get back on top of his game.

That process, like his life now, is a step at a time. McNeal posted rounds of 74 and 80 at The Hill, finishing T-6 in the Championship B flight and tied for 24th among the Calhoun County Golf Tour players in the field, but he’s confident it won’t be long before he’s contending.

“I was nervous all over again,” he said. “I had the first-tee jitters and stuff like that. I didn’t miss it until I got back out here and just realized what I was missing out on. I really wanted to win.

“I kind of feel like everybody looks at me a little different now. I’m just trying to show everybody I’ve straightened my stuff up. I feel like I can make a big comeback. My plan is to win a couple of these tournaments this year.”

McNeal definitely looks different than the last time he was on the tee. The wiry high school player at Alexandria has filled out and put on about 40 pounds during his break from the game.

Another thing that is different is his approach. The big swing is still in the bag and he can crank it out there when he wants to, but he insists he doesn’t tone it up like he used to.

“I can still do it, but I don’t always do it,” he said. “A couple years ago that’s all it was; every time, 110 percent. I’m thinking my way around the golf course a little better now. You don’t have every hole hit driver.”

But you do have to be solid around the greens and the inconsistency all players experience after a stretch of non-golf was evident in his game. Just as the world saw Tiger Woods struggle with his short game after his most recent return from back surgery, McNeal estimated he chunked 10 wedges from just off the green this weekend.

But not the first one. He chipped in for birdie on his first hole of tournament. But he also made a 9 on No. 1 Sunday, hitting three balls out of bounds. He had three birdies in the opening round, one on Sunday.

“I’m really close, really close,” he said. “I know it.”

ACE IN THE CROWD: Denny Besser couldn’t help feeling he’d been here before.

Besser scored his second hole-in-one in a month last week at Cider Ridge Golf Club. The neat thing about it was it came on the same hole, from the same yardage, with the same club he did it the first time.

He aced Cider Ridge’s signature 12th from 115 yards with a 9-iron. It was his third hole-in-one.

“Unbelievable, it’s unbelievable,” he said.

HIGH SCHOOL MATCHES: Jacob Lecroy and Ross Svensen both posted 39s Friday to lead the Donoho golf team to a 166-228 victory over Saks at Anniston Country Club. Sarah Campbell shot the best round among the girls (49).

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