Clemson pulls shocker, wins men’s NCAA golf regional; USC’s season ends

Clemson saved its best for last and pulled off one of the more stunning performances in men’s college golf by winning the NCAA Chapel Hill Regional on Wednesday.

The team that finished in the lower half in six of its 11 tournaments and placed 10th in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship became the first double-digit seed to win an NCAA regional since the format began in 2009.

The triumph sends the Tigers into the NCAA Championship tournament that begins May 24 in Carlsbad, California.

Meanwhile, South Carolina’s men’s season ended with an eighth-place finish in the Baton Rouge Regional.

“It is amazing how quickly things can change in this game,” Clemson coach Jordan Byrd said. “When you see a few putts go in, it can give a team momentum. I have felt all year we were better than our ranking, and we played to our potential this week.”

The Tigers’ fortunes changed this much: Clemson finished 26 strokes behind North Carolina in the ACC tournament three weeks ago — then placed five strokes ahead of fourth-ranked and top-seeded UNC in the regional.

Clemson came into the regional ranked 59th in the national poll and seeded 11th.

Senior Calahan Keever, the team’s No. 5 player whose birdie on the 18th hole gave the Tigers the title by one stroke over East Tennessee State, sparked Clemson with a tie for fifth individually in the best performance of his career.

“Calahan really drove the ball well,” Byrd said. “It seemed like he was hitting the ball 20 years further. He made some putts and that confidence continued the entire tournament.”

Jonathan Nielsen, the Tigers’ top performer all season, fired a final-round 66 to finish seventh individually. Twenty of his 34 rounds this season have been under par, and his 15 rounds in the 60s is third best in Clemson history.

“I really can’t say there was one specific area that stood out over the others,” Byrd said. “We drove the ball well, our irons were solid and we putted well. Really, it was about having confidence and not letting a bogey or two carry over.”

Tigers basketball coach Brad Brownell played a role, too, Byrd said. Brownell’s team bounced back from a poor ACC tournament to reach the Elite Eight in the NCAA tourney in March.

“He offered to talk to our team before we left for the regional and he was great,” Byrd said. “He talked to our team for over 40 minutes about turning the page after the ACC Tournament.

“Coach Brownell knows golf and he related to our team. He talked about having confidence and having a belief that you can succeed. I believe he had a positive impact.”

In the Baton Rouge Regional, USC fashioned its best round of the tournament Wednesday, but the Gamecocks had fallen too far off the pace to secure one of the five spots at stake in the national tournament.

Carolina moved within three strokes of the cut line with three holes to play before falling back.

Nathan Franks, who returned from an injury and played for the first time in almost two months, finished 12th individually. He posted a 6-under 66 Wednesday despite bogeys on his final two holes.

Freshman Bo Carpenter tied for 15th and sophomore Frankie Harris, the team’s top player, shared 20th. Harris had four top-five finishes in 11 stroke-play events.

Chip shots. Yancey Johnson (Simpsonville) captured the weather-delayed SCGA Senior Amateur Championship at Moss Creek GC in Hilton Head. He posted 2-over par 218 for three rounds and won by six shots over Chris Culler (Camden). ... William McGirt (Bluffton), Weston Bell (Piedmont) and Blaine Bunch (Bluffton) advanced to Final qualifying for the U.S. Open in local qualifying at Riverton Pointe G&CC in Hardeeville. ... The Golf Course Superintendents Association raised more than $144,000 in its 2024 Rounds 4 Research program that funds research at Clemson and N.C. State. The highest bidder in South Carolina paid $4,100 for a foursome at the Tree Farm near Aiken. ... Robbie Biershenk and Garland Ferrell defend their title in the SCGA’s Four-Ball Championship that begins Wednesday at Musgrove Mill GC in Clinton. ... The Match Play at Congaree, one of the SCJGA’s top events, starts Tuesday at Congaree GC in Ridgeland.