DENVER, Colo. (May 19) – Central Oklahoma came up one stroke short of advancing to the match play portion of the NCAA Division II Menâ€™s Golf Championships here Thursday.
The top eight teams in the 20-team field moved on to match play to determine the team title after three rounds and the Bronchos were fifth heading into the final day, but dropped to ninth after closing with a 297.
UCO finished with an 867 total at the 7,327-yard, par-72 Green Valley Ranch Golf Course, one shot behind Wilmington for the final spot in the eight-team field. St. Leo finished at 838, followed by Chico State (850), Florida Southern (851), Lynn (858), Barry (858), California Baptist (863) and Wilmington.
Eric Kline and Russ Purser both shot 1-over-par 73s to pace the Bronchos in the final round, while Logan Gray had a 75 and Eli Armstrong and Cody Troutman each shot 76.
Kline finished in a tie for 16th in the final individual standings with a three-under-par 213 total. The senior opened with rounds of 71-69 before closing with the 73, making three bogeys, two birdies and 13 pars on the day.
Purser had a front-nine 37 before making eight pars and one birdie coming in for a closing 36.
Gray and Armstrong both rallied from rough starts, each shooting a two-under 34 on the back to come in with 75s. Troutman made four birdies in shooting 38-38.
Needing a rally during the final round of stroke play in the NCAA Division II Championship, the Oklahoma Christian Eagles instead went in reverse for the second straight day.
A flurry of double bogeys (or worse) on their first nine holes doomed the Eagles, denying them their goal of finishing in the final eight and advancing to the tournament’s match-play rounds, during which the team champion will be determined.
OC shot a 294 (6-over-par) to finish the three rounds of stroke play at 879, in 14th place in the 20-team field. OC finished 13 shots behind eighth-place Wilmington (Del.) and 39 behind first-place St. Leo (Fla.). The Eagles began the day six shots out of eighth place.
By failing to advance to match play, OC’s amazing streak of 16 straight top-four national-tournament finishes â€“ a run established and built upon during the program’s NAIA and NCCAA days â€“ ended in the Eagles’ first season in NCAA Division II.
But coach David Lynn chose to look at the positives, noting a five-man team with three freshmen and a sophomore in the lineup made it further than most expected, just by qualifying for the Division II tournament. His team became the first in OC’s NCAA history to qualify for a national tournament and did so in its first season of eligibility to do so.
"We got off to a decent start today," Lynn said. "I think all of our guys were under par at some point. Then we kind of got derailed there in the middle of our first nine holes. But I’m really just going to focus on how the year went. I know today, and the last three days, didn’t go the way we wanted, but what an amazing year for us, to get to come here and participate in the NCAA finals.
"Nobody knew at the beginning of the year what we would have a chance to accomplish, with seven freshmen and two sophomores, and I couldn’t be more proud of the guys, just in general, how they played. Today didn’t go our way, but it was a great year."
Thursday’s round actually began with promise for the Eagles, who started on hole No. 10. Two birdies in the first four holes by freshman Juan Pallach and sophomore Zac Schaefer quickly put OC at 4-under for the round. But in a span of six holes, the wheels came off for the Eagles.
Senior Sam Johnston recorded a double bogey at the par-3 No. 13, and although he moved back to even par for the round with a birdie at No. 14, the die was cast, as every OC player recorded a double bogey or worse before the turn.
Freshman Ethan Smith’s came at the par-4 No. 15, about the same time as Pallach recorded a double bogey at the par-4 No. 16. Freshman Alejandro Valenzuela struggled mightily at No. 16, too, posting a quadruple bogey. Schaefer’s double bogey came on the par-5 No. 18.
Just like that, and the Eagles were essentially out of contention with half their round remaining.
"We just didn’t have our best stuff this week," Lynn said. "That’s the bottom line. We just didn’t play well as a team and got in our own way a little bit. That happens. It’s just golf. We hung tough. The guys gave it everything they had. â€¦ I’m proud of their effort. I know we finished 14th at the national tournament, but it’s a positive for our program."
Johnston, playing in his final collegiate tournament, salvaged a 2-under 70 on the 7,327-yard layout and tied for 20th in the 108-man field at 2-under 214, 11 shots behind the NCAA Division II individual champion, Hugo Bernard of St. Leo.
"I don’t have any problems saying (Johnston is) one of the best golfers that we’ve ever had," Lynn said. "He won seven tournaments playing a Division II schedule only. â€¦ It’s been a pleasure to have Sam on the team."
Valenzuela, so solid through the postseason for OC, shot a 75 and closed at 217, tied for 38th. Schaefer posted a 73 and tied for 57th at 221, recording a bit of a highlight on the final hole (No. 9) by chipping in from off the green for a par after hitting his second shot into the deep rough.
Smith tied for 81st at 227 after his second straight 76, while Pallach tied for 99th at 233 after a 77.