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Gray eager to don the teal of CCU

Posted: November 15, 2017 2:01 p.m.
Updated: November 17, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

TYLER GRAY SIGNED a National Letter of Intent to continue his academic and golf-playing endeavors at Coastal Carolina University while flanked by his parents, Ryan and Amy Gray. His grandparents, Jerry and Nancy Gray, are also seated for the signing cermony while Camden Country Club head professional Matt McCarley looks on from behind.

Golf is a game in which you sometimes need to go with your gut feeling when choosing the right club which best suits you and your game for a particular shot.

That way of playing has served Tyler Gray well as he has made his way up through the ranks of the state and country’s top junior golfers. When it came time for the Lugoff resident and Thomas Sumter Academy senior to decide on a college, Gray used that same line of thinking. In the end, his heart and head pointed toward Conway.

Last Wednesday, in a ceremony held on the second floor of the clubhouse at the Camden County Club, Gray made it all official as he signed a National Letter of Intent to continue his academic and golf-playing endeavors at Coastal Carolina University.

Gray called the occasion, “probably the biggest day in my life, so far. I’ve dreamt about this day since I was little. I couldn’t ask for anything more,” he said while surrounded by members of his immediate family.

While trying to explain his decision-making process on a college, the 6-foot, 165-pounder was almost unable to do it. His explanation was that it just felt right.

“The minute that I stepped on campus, it just felt different than everywhere else … it just felt special,” he said. “There wasn’t really a rhyme or reason why Coastal. There was a different feeling about it once I stepped on campus. Everything around me just felt comfortable.”

Gray is part of a three-player class signed by first-year Chanticleer head coach Jim Garren who came to CCU after helping the University of Oklahoma win the 2017 NCAA Division I men’s golf title as an assistant coach. A nine-year assistant with the Sooners, Garren did not have much time to hit the recruiting trail since he was not named as the head coach at Coastal until July 20.

 “We are excited about this class as they will be the foundation for of our golf program in the future. Since we got a late start, I honestly was not sure what we were going to do with this class,” Garren said.

“My main goal in recruiting has been to add the right kind of people, the kind of guys who will fit into our system and how we do things at Coastal. Not only were we able to do that, but we were also able to add three high-quality players who are high-quality people. In baseball terms, we hit a home run in a very short amount of time. I think these recruits saw our team’s improvement in such a short time and believe in our philosophy. Jeremy (asistant coach Alcorn) was very vital in this process and we could not have done this without him being here as well.”

In Gray, the Chants are getting a two-time (2016 & ’17) defending South Carolina Independent School Association (SCISA) 2A state champion who shot a 66 to win the 2017 title and had rounds of 70-68 to win 2016 title with birdies on three of his last four holes in the final round. Gray was also named the 2017 SCISA Player of the Year and is a two-time All-State selection.

A member of the Camden Country Club, Gray finished second in the prestigious Jimmy Creed Junior Invitational played over his home course. The winner of the event was Gray’s future CCU teammate, Lancaster High School senior Brady Hinkle. Gray tied for sixth in the 2017 Sea Pines Junior Heritage in Hilton Head while earning a spot on the 2017 Can-Am team for team South Carolina, which is comprised of the top eight ranked players in the state.

In spite of those accomplishments, Gray said this past summer did not go the way he wanted it to. In spite of what Gray said were his problems on the course, Garren never lost faith in one of the three recruits who signed with CCU last Wednesday. That went a long way in helping Gray make his choice of a school and which coach he wanted to play for at the collegiate level.

“He just went out there, looked at my golf swing and looked at how everything was doing,” Gray said of his coach-in-waiting. “I struggled a little bit this summer. I did not play my best but he looked past that and looked at everything that I was doing right instead of everything I was doing wrong. I appreciated that.”

Garren said there is plenty to like about Gray and his golf game.

 “Tyler is a naturally-talented player. He has the physical tools and ability to hit the golf ball at a high level,” he said. “The thing I love about Tyler is that he has a tremendous amount of potential. When we look at him we know that this guy is going to get way better under our system. We believe he will be a long-time producer for our program.”

Camden Country Club head professional Matt McCarley has been working with Gray since he came to McCarley’s summer camps at the White Pines Golf Club some 10 years ago. McCarley, a former golf captain at the University of South Carolina, said his pupil may have spread himself too thin in trying to play in too many events over the course of the past summer which may have affected his play.

“I think he may have played too much tournament golf this past year,” he said. “We have gotten him away from that over the past couple months and now, we’re ready to gear back up and start moving ahead toward next year.”

The focal point for Gray and McCarley will be on the short game which McCarley preaches to all his players and students, young or adult.

“Tyler’s come a long way. He has all the tools to be a really good player,” McCarley said. “He has to keep working hard on his short game. I talked to him about that last week and that is our goal for this winter; to really work on his short game.”

Gray understands the importance of playing well around and on the greens and how it affects your score on a round. That could make all the difference between shooting in the low 70s or, in the high 70s to low 80s, the latter two of  which, McCarley said, will not cut it when playing Division I golf. 

“Short game. Definitely the short game,” Gray said when asked what area of his game needs polishing. “I struggled this summer in that area and that’s something I need to get better at doing if I want to go to the next level after college.”

That will not be the only difference for Gray. In college, he will be on his own and will be responsible for being where he is supposed to be and doing what he is supposed to be doing including, he said, having to wash his own clothes.

Golf-wise, Gray said there will be early morning workouts and playing both a fall and spring schedule, which will be different than just the spring season in high school.

“He’s going to have a lot of distractions down there,” McCarley said of Gray’s adjustment to the college game and campus life, in general. “You’re living on your own for the first time and the golf course where they play at Coastal is located where he has to get in his car and drive 15 to 20 minutes to get there. 

“The schoolwork is more difficult and then there is the traveling and missing class time. When we were playing (at USC), we were sometimes missing two or three days of class when we went to tournaments. 

“Tyler will have to juggle two or three different things once he gets there but he has a good head on his shoulders and he doesn’t seem to get distracted easily. I think that he will be fine. I look forward to following Tyler and his career at Coastal.”

A three-time Columbia City junior champion who finished 12th at the 2017 Dustin Johnson World Junior Golf Championship, named for the former Chanticleer and current PGA Tour star, played over the TPC Myrtle Beach course, Gray said he has a a pretty good idea as to what awaits him come next fall along the Grand Strand.

“It’s going to be a lot more competitive. Everybody at that level is good. It’s just a matter of who plays smarter,” said Gray, who cracked the top 200 in the 2017 National Junior Golf Scoreboard rankings. 

“I have played year ‘round so, it’s not going to be any different for me. Just the workouts and working with coach Garren and listening to coach Alcorn will be different in college.”

Gray said that, as a freshman, he knows his role and is prepared to do whatever it takes to help the Chanticleer program. “It will be different,” he said as opposed to his lofty spot at TSA and in junior golf rankings in the Palmetto State. “I have to work my way up the ladder, be a team player and work on getting better every day.”

One built-in advantage for Gray is that the Chanticleers’ home course, the Hackler Course at Coastal Carolina University, has been the site of the SCISA state tournament the past two springs. Having played and won state titles over that par-72 layout, Gray has a comfortable feeling in and around the greens as well as along its fairways. 

Add that to his feelings about the coaching staff and the Coastal Carolina campus and this was a tap-in when it came to making a choice as to where he would spend his college days.  

“It feels like home down there. I couldn’t ask for anything more,” he said with a smile.


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