SILVIS, Ill. – No. 1-ranked Oklahoma City University will return to TPC Deere Run with its sights set on repeating as national champion in the NAIA men’s golf championships starting Tuesday.
The Stars will be among the first groups teeing off 7:30 a.m. CDT Tuesday to start the 72-hole tournament. Oklahoma City captured its 10th men’s golf national title May 27, 2016 in Silvis, Ill.
OCU erased a seven-shot deficit entering the final round in the 2016 NAIA Championships. The Stars won their 2010 national crown at TPC Deere Run.
The Stars bring back Matthew Cheung and Rupert Kaminski, who earned all-tournament nods with top-10 finishes in last year’s national tournament. Cheung, a senior from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, finished three strokes off the pace set by Texas Wesleyan’s David Ravetto. Kaminski, a sophomore from Johannesburg, South Africa, tied for ninth place.
Oklahoma City comes off taking its third consecutive Sooner Athletic Conference championship, seventh league crown in eight years and 22nd SAC title overall. The Stars triumphed by 16 shots over fifth-ranked Wayland Baptist (Texas) on April 25 at Gaillardia Country Club in Oklahoma City.
“I talk to my teams about toughness, mentally and physically,” OCU coach Kyle Blaser said. “We had wind gusts up to 40 mph. They really fought hard. Repeating as conference champions puts extra weight and pressure on their shoulders. They really performed well. It was a great team effort from five to one. They all chipped in, and they all supported each other and played really strong as a group.”
Kaminski nabbed his second consecutive SAC individual title, making up a three-shot deficit in the final 18 holes. Kaminski became a two-time finalist for the NAIA Jack Nicklaus player of the year award. The Nicklaus player of the year will be announced June 1. Kaminski has accumulated a 71.22 stroke average, four eagles and 112 birdies this season.
“He was cool, calm and collected,” Blaser said of Kaminski. “He wasn’t hitting the ball really well through a few holes. He was scrambling really well. He got a few breaks. Every time he had a chance at birdie, he made it. He chipped in on 16. Great players always rise to the occasion, and he’s one of the all-time greats we’ve had.”
Cheung snagged all-conference honors with an eagle on the final hole. Cheung owns a 72.00 scoring average with six eagles and 78 birdies in 2016-17.
“Matthew’s not happy about how he finished,” Blaser said of Cheung. “We’ve talked and talked about big numbers. He had a triple and quite a few double bogeys. We’re trying to eliminate those. Once Matthew turns those doubles and triples into bogeys, it’s going to be a good go for him. He’s a fighter. I knew he would play well the final round because he didn’t play up to his standards in round two. He chipped in on the last hole for eagle to shoot even par, which was huge for the team. He’s usually pretty good about doing something spectacular. Last year at the national tournament, he put on a show in the last couple of rounds. I expect him to go out and play really well in May.”
David Meyers and Peri’Don Castille of OCU turned in top-10 finishes in the SAC Championships, while Garrison Mendoza finished 13th. Meyers, a freshman from Johannesburg, South Africa, has produced 72.59 shots per round, two eagles and 84 birdies this season, while Castille, a freshman from Dallas, has recorded a 75.45 stroke average. Mendoza, a junior from Clinton, Okla., has turned in a 73.78 scoring average with two eagles and 78 birdies in 2016-17.
The Stars has reeled in seven tournament victories and two runner-up finishes this season.
“We always talk about having each other’s back or running through the brick wall for each other,” Blaser said. “They all hang together and do things together. This might be one of my closest knit groups. This is a special group of young men.”