By STEVE HARMON
DADE CITY, Fla. – Southeastern Louisiana is to college golf what the Opening Ceremony is to the Olympics: a parade of nations. The Lions’ players are from England, France, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden. There’s also a Louisianan.
In a nod to the school’s state heritage, a young Frenchman is emerging as one of the team’s standard-bearers.
Cedric Scotto, a first-semester freshman, has acclimated himself quickly to American college golf after having enrolled at the Hammond campus in January. In four events, he has three top-5 finishes and a T-28 last week at the Ron Smith/USF Invitational. Scotto shot 72-73-76–221 at Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club’s South Course.
Scotto is not your typical college freshman. He’s 21 and a student of the world, having represented France in amateur events in England, Ireland, Germany, Portugal, Switzerland, the United States – you name it, he’s probably been there and shot par or better.
Wiry at 5 feet 9 inches and 145 pounds, Scotto resembles the tennis player that he used to be. He played the game until age 12, then gave it up for golf. His hometown of Mulhouse in eastern France, near the Swiss and German borders, changed hands during both world wars. Scotto remembers it simply as “cold winters, hot summers.’’ He attended sports high schools in two other French towns.
Even in his own country, he’s somewhat of a refugee. The name Scotto is Sicilian, the home of his paternal grandparents. His mother’s side is from Poland, though she was raised in Spain. Got it?
He is settling in with a worldly bunch of teammates: Rasmus Astrand of Solvesborg, Sweden; Graham Benson of Leighton Buzzard, England; Matthew Carvell of Johannesburg, South Africa; Aaron O’Callaghan of Cork, Ireland; Kevin Sohn of Picton, New Zealand; and homeboy Eddie Brescher of Ponchatoula, La.
Southeastern Louisiana’s travels this spring aren’t likely to faze the team’s newest member.
Scotto’s English is improving, and when addressed, he hangs on each word in search of clarity. But Scotto speaks the universal language of golf fluently. His consistency has helped buoy a Southeastern Louisiana team that is No. 82 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.
Coach Tim Baldwin, in his 20th season with one of college golf’s unsung programs, thinks this team might have the ability to do something special. The Lions finished fourth at the USF tournament at 11-over 875. Middle Tennessee State shot 6-under 858 to win by 14 shots.
Southeastern qualified for the NCAA Central Regional last year and was ranked No. 37. This spring, the Lions have a victory in a three-team match and two top-5 finishes.
It’s that uniquely American fixation on victory – specifically, an individual golfer’s score more so than the technique to get it done — that Scotto has found to be his biggest adjustment.
“American players focus more on score,’’ Scotto said, contrasting his mind-set with that of his new competitors.
Baldwin likes what he sees in Scotto.
“He drives it straight, has good length for his size and is a good iron player,’’ Baldwin said. “He has no weaknesses. What I like most is his fresh attitude. It’s all new to the kid. He likes competition. When he’s on, he hits it close to the hole.’’
A three-hole stretch at the end of Scotto’s first round at Lake Jovita offers some insight into his feistiness. Grinding through a 2-over round through 15 holes, Scotto faced a 50-foot birdie putt on the par-3 No. 4, his 16th hole of the day. He bombed it home. Faced with a one-foot-in, one-foot-out stance in a fairway bunker on the next hole, he still managed to save par with a clutch 12-footer. On his final hole — the No. 1 handicap hole, a 446-yard, 90-degree dogleg left uphill to a two-tiered green – Scotto hammered a draw off the tee, cut a short iron onto the top shelf near the tucked-right pin and then made the putt.
“I met him a couple of years ago at the Orange Bowl (Junior Tournament in Miami),’’ Baldwin said. “He was paired with another kid I was watching. I liked what I saw.
“He’s turned out better than I thought.’’
And the spring is only beginning.
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Steve Harmon is Golfweek’s deputy editor. To reach him e-mail [email protected]