Graduate Austin Vukovits has six top 10 finishes so far in his college career.

No. 18 Mississippi State University men's golf was welcomed to the SEC Championship at St. Simons Island, Georgia, this past week to begin postseason play.

The conference championship started Wednesday and lasted until Sunday. The Bulldogs advanced past stroke play but saw their run cut short after falling in the first round of match play 3-2 to the tournament's top-seed, No. 13 Tennessee. 

Seven other SEC teams entered the tournament ranked in the top 25, including Tennessee, top-ranked Vanderbilt, No. 8 Auburn, No. 9 Florida, No. 15 Texas A&M, No. 17 Alabama and No. 21 Ole Miss.

The competition looked to be tricky as the Bulldogs made their way to the peach state. Nonetheless, head coach Dusty Smith was excited for his team to have made it this far.

"This is what you work the entire year for—for opportunities like this,” Smith said. “What matters to us is that we put ourselves in the arena with confidence and trust in one another. We are prepared for this moment."

Coach Smith's squad showed their confidence in the first round of stroke play, collecting a total of 22 birdies with three Bulldogs carding rounds in the 60s – Hunter Logan (67), Ford Clegg (68) and Garrett Endicott (69). MSU shot five under 275 as a team to land them in a tie for fourth place as day two of the competition rolled around.

"We need to do a better job at doing the simple things. I thought we lost some shots on the front nine by trying to do a little too much," Coach Smith said. "We did a very good job of hanging tough and being better at the end of our round."

Mississippi State continued to fight with two Bulldogs, Logan and Endicott, carding a bogey-free back nine. 

Individually, Logan led the way after the first round for the Bulldogs, tied with six others for 5th. Following a stroke behind was Clegg in a 12-way tie for 11th place. Austin Vukovitz led all golfers in birdies, shooting seven in the first round and ending the day in an 11-way tie for 39th.

"I really thought we played steady golf, for the most part, today,” Coach Smith said following the second round. “It always felt like we had all five guys in it, which is important on days like today."

On day two, MSU shot an even 280, but the team fell to sixth place. Two more rounds were carded in the 60s for the Bulldogs on day two – Clegg, who added his second, and Ruan Pretorius – bringing the tournament total to five.

"Ford and Ruan did a great job keeping golf simple today," Smith said.

Pretorius jumped 14 places to 39th following his day two performance, but Clegg would lead the way for Mississippi State, finishing the second round tied for seventh. Vukovitz would carry the lead for most birdies into day three, carding four more to total eleven after 36 holes.

On the third and final day of stroke play, MSU shot 286, totaling one over (841), beating out Georgia by one shot to claim the last quarterfinal spot. 

"[I'm] proud of how we handled the day," Smith said about day three. "It wasn't our best, but the guys came up big when they needed to. We are prepared and ready for a great match against a great opponent in Tennessee."

Two Bulldogs would end stroke-play in the top 20, with Logan (-2) in 13th and Endicott (E) in 19th. Clegg, named the 2023 SEC Golf Scholar-Athlete of the Year, ended stroke play in a tie for 38th. Pretorius tied for 47th with five other golfers, and Vukovits ended in a tie for 53rd with LSU's Conner Gaunt and Auburn's Carson Bacha.

In claiming the final quarterfinal spot, the Bulldogs faced top-seeded Tennessee in the first round of match play. The Volunteers edged out MSU 3-2. 

Clegg won his matchup 2&1 against Tennessee's Bryce Lewis. Lewis held a one-hole advantage over Clegg through seven holes before the Bulldogs evened the score on hole eight. After seven holes of a tied match, Clegg won the 15th and clinched his matchup on hole 17.

Vukovits also won his match, defeating Jake Hall 1-up. After trailing through the first nine holes, the Bulldog tied things up on the tenth. The pair was tied for six of the next seven holes before Vukovits clinched his match on hole 17.

Logan kept things close but eventually fell to the SEC individual champion, Caleb Surratt, 2-1. Pretorius lost his match to Laurent Desmarchais, 4-3 and Endicott fell to Josh Hill at 5-3.

Looking forward, MSU will wait for the NCAA Division I Men's Golf Selection Show May 3 to learn where it will head for the NCAA Regionals. The selection show will be broadcast on the Golf Channel at noon CT.

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