Some of the very best Division I college golfers in the country were on display last weekend when the Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference held their respective championship tournaments. Great golf ensued.
The SEC decided to mimic the format of the NCAA Championship with 54 holes of stroke play to determine eight match-play qualifiers and an individual champion followed by a day of quarterfinals and semifinals and then the final.
The event produced the kind of drama that has made the NCAA such a draw on The Golf Channel since match play was introduced into the mix. In the end, Vanderbilt, No. 3 in the latest Golfstat rankings, won the first SEC title in school history with a 3-2 victory over No. 15 Texas A&M that capped four days of amazing golf at Sea Island Golf Club’s Seaside Course at St. Simons Island, Ga.
It started with a bang as Florida’s Alejandro Tosti, a junior from Argentina, blitzed the 7,005-yard, par-70 Seaside Course layout with a 6-under-par 64 that led the No. 6 Gators to a sparkling 11-under 269 team total and the opening-round lead.
Florida couldn’t sustain its momentum in the afternoon of the Friday double round, posting a 9-over 289, but Tosti kept it up with a 3-under 69 that gave him a one-shot lead in the individual chase.
It was Vanderbilt, though, which owned the final day of stroke play. Patrick Martin, a sophomore from Birmingham, Ala., and Theo Humphrey, a junior from Greenwich, Conn., both came in with a 4-under 66 as the Commodores carded an 8-under 272 for an 11-under 829 total.
That gave them the top seed for match play with Texas A&M finishing second, six shots back of Vandy at 5-under 835. No. 7 LSU, which put together a pretty strong final round of 5-under 275 itself, finished third at 3-under 837 and Florida was another shot back in fourth at 2-under 838.
Martin’s 66, his second of the tournament, enabled him to catch Tosti at 10-under 200 and force a playoff for the individual title. Tosti closed with a 3-under 67.
Tosti captured the title with a four on the second playoff hole, about the only thing Vanderbilt did not win during the weekend.
Humphrey’s final-round 66 left him alone in 12th place at 1-under 209. Will Gordon, a sophomore from Davidson, N.C., finished tied for 18th at 2-over 212, John Augenstein, a freshman from Owensboro, Ky., finished tied for 27th at 4-over 214 and Matthias Schwab, the Commodores’ veteran senior, finished tied for 33rd at 5-over 215.
Schwab, though, saved his best stuff for the final round, a 1-under 69 that was a big part of Vanderbilt’s final push to the top seed.
But it was Augenstein, the freshman, who would be the hero of match play for the Commodores.
Augenstein, Gordon and Schwab won their matches in a 3-2 quarterfinal win over No. 23 Mississippi. Texas A&M rolled to a 5-0 decision over No. 24 Missouri. Florida survived with a 3-2 win over No. 30 South Carolina when Tosti outlasted Will Miles, a sophomore from Hilton Head Island, S.C., in 20 holes and No. 38 Alabama earned a 3.5-1.5 win over LSU in a mild upset, if there is such a thing as an upset in match play.
Augenstein holed a 10-foot putt to defeat Florida’s Andy Zhang on the 20th hole and deliver a 3-2 semifinal win for Vanderbilt over Florida. The playoff participants for the individual title, Tosti and Martin met again with Tosti again prevailing, claiming a 2 and 1 decision. Texas A&M earned the other spot in the final with a 3-2 victory over Alabama.
The spotlight again landed on Augenstein in Monday’s final and he came through again, this time making a par on the 14th hole at the Seaside Course, the 23rd hole of the match, to defeat Andrew Paysse, a junior from Temple, Texas, for the winning point in a 3-2 Vanderbilt victory.
Martin and Humphrey also earned match wins in the victory over the Aggies.
The ACC didn’t go to match play, but it did finish up with a four-man playoff for the individual title. With a forecast for bad weather heading for the Musgrove Mill Golf Course in Clinton, S.C. Sunday, the tournament finished up with a 36-hole Saturday windup.
Virginia’s Jimmy Stanger, a senior from Tampa, Fla., needed to hole a six-foot birdie putt on his final hole, the ninth at Musgrove Mill, and he got it to fall to join the playoff. Stanger was then the only player of the four to birdie the first playoff hole, the 18th at Musgrove Mill, to capture the ACC individual title.
The birdie on the final hole of regulation gave Stanger a 1-under 71 on the back end of Saturday’s double round over the 6,951-yard, par-72 Musgrove Mill layout and a 5-under 211 total.
He was joined at that figure by North Carolina’s Ben Griffin, a junior from Chapel Hill, N.C. who had gone 7-under in the first 36 holes only to fall back with a 2-over 74 in the final round, Wake Forest’s Paul McBride, a junior from England who had a final round of 3-under 69, and Clemson’s Bryson Nimmer, a sophomore from Bluffton, S.C. who matched par in the final round with a 72.
The team title went to No. 21 Duke, giving the Blue Devils a sweep of the men’s and women’s ACC titles, no easy feat in a conference filled with talented players of both genders.
Duke jumped out with an 11-under 277 in Friday’s opening round and fiercely protected its advantage during Saturday’s double round. The Blue Devils added a 3-under 285 in the middle round and finished up with an even-par 288 to finish at 14-under 850.
That gave Duke a 12-shot advantage over runnerup Clemson, ranked 14th. The Tigers finished with a 1-over 289 for a 2-under 862 total. It was another five shots back to No. 9 Wake Forest in third at 3-over 867.
It was a remarkably balanced effort by Duke with the five players in its lineup all within four shots of each other and landing from tied for fifth to 14th place in the individual standings.
The Blue Devils were led by Alex Smalley, a sophomore from Wake Forest, N.C. who finished tied for fifth at 4-under 212, just missing the playoff for the individual title. Smalley finished up with 69 and 70 in Saturday’s double round.
Jake Shuman, a junior from Neeham, Mass, finished tied for eighth at 2-under 214 despite a final-round 75, Alexander Matlari, a senior from Germany, and Matt Oshrine, a senior from Baltimore, both finished in the group tied for 10th at 1-under 215, and Chandler Eaton, a freshman from Alpharetta, Ga., finished alone in 14th at even-par 216.
But it was such a team win that Duke tossed the score of its top finisher, Smalley, in the Blue Devils’ best round, the 11-under 277 opening round. Shuman and Oshrine carded 68s, Matlari had a 69 and Eaton matched par with a 72 while Smalley checked in at 1-over 73.
Such is the talent at these two events that two Bucks County guys didn’t even make the lineup for their respective teams for the conference championships.
Wake Forest’s lineup did not include sophomore Kyle Sterbinsky, the former Peddie School standout from Yardley. Sterbinsky was very solid for the Demon Deacons in the postseason as a freshman last spring. It will be interesting to see if he can play his way into the lineup for next month’s regionals.
The lineup for SEC champion Vanderbilt did not include senior Zach Herr, the former Council Rock North standout. Still a good enough player to earn medalist honors at a U.S. Open local qualifier last spring in western Pennsylvania, Herr just can’t crack the lineup for the talented Commodores.
Many of the teams that teed it up at Sea Island and Musgrove Mill last weekend will earn berths in next month’s NCAA regionals. They’re that good and their conference championships reflected that level of play.