A new era in Clayton State Laker men's golf is in full swing this season as Steve Runge is on board as the Lakers' new head coach. A former standout collegiate player at Ohio State and professional golfer on the Nationwide Tour, Runge brings an impressive pedigree and background to the Laker program and aims to return Clayton State to elite status in the Peach Belt Conference.

The first-year mentor inherited a team that returned four players off last season's squad that finished eighth in the Peach Belt Conference Championships. Runge got a feel for his new team during the fall season, and the results were positive. The Lakers recorded three Top 10 finishes in their four events for a scoring average of 300.3.

With the 2012 spring season on the horizon, Runge likes the talent on the squad. However, there is one aspect he is looking for each day – consistency.

"Everyone is very positive and we talked about the mental game," said Runge. "The guys are very talented and have the ability to shoot in the 60s. The only thing they lack is that consistency. We need that throughout the lineup.

"We had two very strong rounds in the fall, before have a terrible round. That goes back to the consistency that we are striving for. I want the team to improve and we are on the right track."

Two key returning players are who Runge will build the team around this fall – senior Clark Nelson and junior Chris McManus. Nelson is the team captain and had the lowest score for the Lakers during the fall with a 75.3. His low round was a 70 at the TVA Credit Invite. Last season, Nelson had a scoring average of 77.8.

McManus was Clayton State's top player last season with a 75.4 average with one Top 10 finish and one Top 5 finish. During the fall, he was second behind Nelson at 75.8.

"Clark played very well during the preseason qualifying, he works hard and his golf game is getting better. He has to let things happen and he can do well," Runge said. "Chris has done great. He didn't play as well as he could have during qualifying, and a lot of that has to do with courses we practice on. Chris is a shorter, straighter type of player, but not the longest hitter."

Rounding out the starting five players is sophomore Tyson Beaupre and promising freshmen Ryan Lort and Will Shenstone. Beaupre is a big left-hander and one of the longest hitters off the tee in the Peach Belt. He improved to a 76.1 during the fall, and Runge is expecting Beaupre to get better with his short game around the green and with the putter.

Both Lort and Shenstone joined the program with a lot of potential, and that potential was displayed during the fall. Shenstone posted the lowest round with a 67 in the TVA Credit Invite and finished the fall at 75.9. Lort finished with a 76.9 with a low round of 72.

"Tyson is striking the ball really well and hits the ball long off the tee – he's a boomer," Runge said. "If he can get comfortable with the putter, expect good things from Tyson. Will is a tremendous talent with a great golf swing that is very technical sound. Ryan may not look pretty all the time, but he grinds it out."

Also returning to the Laker fold is junior Barrett McCarthy, who started multiple tournaments last season. Runge also added freshmen Ryan Haskell and Josh Stanley at the semester break. Haskell is a member of the Welsh National Team and was a distinguished junior golfer in Wales. Runge expects Haskell to break into the lineup as the season progresses.

Clayton State opens the spring season with the Armstrong Pirate Invitational in Savannah on Feb. 27-28. The Lakers will also compete in the Magnolia Invitational, the Bobcat Invitational and the Bearcat Invitational – all three tournaments featuring tremendous Division II fields. The 2012 Peach Belt Conference Tournament is set for April 9-10 in Pine Mountain, Ga.

"Our potential is the get better," Runge said. "I have been very impressed with the teams in the Peach Belt. I hope we gain confidence and experience. That is the key to playing good golf under pressure."

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