PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 29, 2014) – A lot of folks wrote off Oklahoma Christian’s chances before the final day of the National Christian College Athletic Association Championship. But the Eagles showed Wednesday that such doubt was misplaced.
OC started the day in fifth place, 10 shots out, but a spirited rally put the Eagles in contention. They pulled within four shots of the lead on the back nine, forcing Colorado Christian to have to hang on coming down the stretch.
It was close enough at the end that the Eagles were sitting in the clubhouse, watching Colorado Christian finish on No. 18 and hoping for a potential playoff. But the Cougars didn’t falter and eventually posted a five-shot win over The Hombre Golf Club’s Bad and Ugly courses.
OC’s team score of 298 was the best of the final round and left the Eagles at 897 – tantalizingly close to what would have been an improbable comeback. As his players talked about missed opportunities over the final holes, coach David Lynn reminded them that those opportunities were throughout the three-day tournament, not just on the final day.
"We were just a little bit too far back," Lynn said. "I’ve got to take my hat off to the kids. We didn’t get off to a good start again. We actually got off to our worst start in three days. … We were so far out of it, it wasn’t even funny. But to see those kids come back … to see the way they were grinding and keeping their heads up, I’m nothing but proud as a coach to see how they fought today. That’s a great characteristic to have on your team.
"Second is not the end of the world. It’s not what we came here to do, but I’m not going to be disappointed with the kids. They gave 100 percent."
Lost in the frustration of the runner-up finish were numerous positives. OC passed three teams – Dallas Baptist (Texas), Lee (Tenn.) and Oklahoma Wesleyan – while extending a remarkable streak of finishing in the top four of a national tournament in each of the past 16 academic years.
"We’ve been blessed with a lot of quality kids, kids that wouldn’t give up," Lynn said. "It would have been very easy for our team, being in fifth place and not (playing) in the last group, to just come out today and kind of mail it in. You see that a lot in competition in general. These kids did anything but mail it in. They went out there and performed."
OC also had a pair of All-Americans in Sam Johnston, a junior from San Diego, and Trey Payne, a senior from Ardmore. Johnston, the runner-up in the NCCAA tournament the past two years, tied for fourth at 222 after firing a final-round 3-over-par 75 on the 6,613-yard layout. Johnston finished six shots behind the medalist, David Ryan of Oklahoma Wesleyan.
Payne tied for ninth in the 66-man field at 224 after closing with a 79.
"I’m really happy for both those guys," Lynn said of Johnston and Payne. "Sam didn’t have his best week. But he kept it in play the best that he could and had three decent rounds. I’m really happy for Trey to finish out as an All-American his senior year, to have the opportunity to do that and be successful. He’s worked so hard. … He really grinded today. He earned it. Both of them really gutted it out today."
Freshman Zac Schaeffer posted the Eagles’ top score of Wednesday, a 73 that included three birdies and an eagle on the par-5 No. 4. That put him in a tie for 15th at 228.
Senior Jared Consoli overcame a quintuple bogey on No. 2 to shoot four birdies and finish at 2-over 74. The Australian was tied for 17th overall at 229, along with teammate Asher Owen. Owen, a freshman, shot a final-round 76.
With their fall season complete, the Eagles will point toward their spring campaign, which will start Feb. 17-18 at the San Antonio Shoot-Out. OC will end the spring season with another postseason opportunity, as the Eagles will be able to play for the first time in the Heartland Conference Championship.
"This was a great precursor for some pressure on a hard golf course in a championship setting," Lynn said. "I think that’s going to do nothing but help us when we get the opportunity to play in the Heartland Conference Championship in April. … We’re really looking forward to that. Hopefully that will give us an edge and prepare us."