CCGA golf (copy)

College of Coastal Georgia golfer Mark David Johnson follows through after a shot earlier this season. He and the rest of the Mariners golf team are in Illinois for the NAIA national championship this week.

The Brunswick News/File

College of Coastal Georgia’s golf team is making its fifth-straight appearance in the NAIA Men’s National Golf Tournament.

Play begins today at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Ill. with a field of 29 teams competing for the national title.

The winners of the 21 conferences competing in the tournament automatically qualified for the event.

The Mariners began the season ranked No. 20 and moved as high as No. 4 in the nation this season. The Mariners, currently ranked No. 8, received one of the at-large bids.

Mariners’ golf coach Mike Cook said his team, ranked in the Top 10 much of the season, is one of the legitimate contenders for the championship. The Mariners’ golf team won the national champion in 2014 and 2015.

“I think anyone ranked in the top 10, top 12, has a chance to win,” he said. “We’re one of them.”

Cook said this year’s team compares with the team that won the title in 2014.

The Mariners have been battle tested in Sun Conference play this season, with five teams qualifying for the national tournament.

“Four of the teams in our conference were ranked in the Top 10,” Cook said. “We kind of beat up on each other this year. We play against the top teams in the country.”

The team’s top five players will compete in the 72-hole event on the course where the PGA’s John Deere Classic is played each year, with the top four scores counting toward the national championship.

The team arrived in Illinois early enough for practice rounds Sunday and Monday to prepare for the event. Cook said the playing conditions are different than what his players are accustomed to playing on in the Southeast.

“It’s a tough golf course,” he said. “The difference here is they have thick rough. We don’t have anything at home that compares to this.”

The greens are also faster than the courses the team normally putts on, he said.

“We have to be patient,” he said. “We have to be really good around the greens. We have to putt well to win the tournament.”

Play begins today and ends Friday with the crowning of the national champion.

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