By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA - Trey Valentine is one of those special freshman talents.
Instead of sitting back and soaking up the college experience, he took the reins and led the USF men's golf team right away by posting three straight top-five finishes in the fall.
Valentine was named Big East Freshman of the Year by the end of the season and now he gets to go it alone in the pursuit of a national title. The Melbourne, Fla., native has been selected to compete in the NCAA Division I Men's Golf Championship and will start his journey in regional play at the University of Georgia Thursday through Saturday.
"I have the same opportunity as a person from the No. 1 school in the country. That's kind of a neat," Valentine said. "I'm looking forward to the opportunity."
Valentine's objective is to become the top individual finisher outside of the top five teams at the Athens Regional. Accomplish that and he'll advance to the finals that take place May 29 to June 3 at The Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
"I just have to treat it like any other tournament because it really is just any other tournament and I think it's pretty cool," Valentine said. "It allows everyone to start fresh and everything you've done at this point of the season doesn't really matter anymore. It just matters how you play now from here on out. Everyone has the same advantage."
Being able to focus on the task at hand has paid off for Valentine in his first go-round in Division I golf. Valentine became USF's top player this season with five top-10 finishes, six top-25 finishes and a 71.9 stroke average through 24 rounds. His top finish came early in the spring when he tied for third place at 7 under against some of the top golfers in the nation at the Seminole Intercollegiate on March 11.
"He was incredibly consistent throughout the fall and even throughout the beginning of the spring semester," USF head coach Chris Malloy said. "You never know how they're going to react as freshman, but he did a really good job and has put himself into a position to advance through and win a national championship as an individual."
Valentine is determined to be the best every time out, but learning to deal with imperfect rounds has made him the player he is today.
"I haven't hit the ball to my full potential in really any event this entire year and somehow I still managed to score. I think I've learned you can play golf at a higher level without your 'A' game all the time," he said. "I think the key with me is staying composed and knowing that you don't always have to have your 'A' game to compete."
Valentine has been working to take what he's called his "C or D game" this season to the next level in regional play and he has the right mindset going into Thursday's first round that begins at 8 a.m.
"I'm really confident in my game and when I'm on, I think I'm just as good as anyone," he said. "You have to dream big."
Get more information on the Athens Regional here. Live scoring during each round can be accessed online at Golfstat.com.