NCAA regionals: Chattanooga punches ticket; A&M wins wild playoff
Entering this year's NCAA Division I men's golf regionals, a few coaches shared a sentiment that this was the deepest the sport has ever been.
The last three days certainly didn't discredit that.
There aren't any major Cinderellas playing on – though No. 12 seed Northern Illinois made a nice run before faltering late in Salem, South Carolina – but in addition to No. 9 seed Colorado advancing in Norman, Oklahoma, a whopping four No. 8 seeds – BYU, Chattanooga, New Mexico and San Francisco – made it through to the NCAA Championship, which starts a week from Friday at Grayhawk.
The biggest upset: No. 2 Tennessee seeing its season end in Auburn, Alabama.
There were two playoffs for the fifth spot. Three more playoffs for individual spots. And a ton of low – like really low – scores (more on that below).
Here is a closer look at each of the six sites, highlighting who advanced to the NCAA Championship, who didn't, and what the big stories were:
(Note: This is a running file and will be updated as information rolls in.)
Auburn University Club, Auburn, Alabama
Advancing teams: 1. Auburn (-1), 2. Vanderbilt (E), 3. Chattanooga (+2), 4. Ohio State (+8), 5. Colorado State (+10)
Just missed: 6. Washington (+16), 7. Indiana (+17), 8. Tennessee (+25)
Individual winners: Maxwell Moldovan, Ohio State, and Christoph Bleier, Colorado State (-7)
Advancing individual: Drew Salyers, Indiana (-4)
Final results: Team | Individual
Big story: In my opinion, the national coach of the year race is already over. That's because what Chattanooga first-year head coach Blaine Woodruff has done in Year 1 is nothing short of remarkable.
Not only did he take over a program that was ranked outside the top 130 last season and lead the Mocs to four wins, a top-50 national ranking and back to regionals for the first time since 2014.
Not only did he then guide Chattanooga to its first NCAA Championship since 2012 with a third-place finish Wednesday at the NCAA Auburn Regional.
Not only did his starting lineup for much of the season, including regionals, consist of three transfers – and really four as senior and No. 1 player Paul Conroy was in the portal briefly before returning to the program last fall.
But Woodruff has done all of that while also dealing with personal tragedy after the death of he and his wife Katie's unborn daughter, Riley Grace, less than two months ago.
"It's been really cool to see how this team's come together," Woodruff said a couple weeks ago. "As a coach, I feel like it's my job to be there for them. But really, they've been there for me. Coaches want good players, but these guys have really shown me what type of men they are and I couldn't be prouder of them...
"This has maybe added a little bit of perspective that golf's not everything. Our guys have worked hard all year, and the results have come, but I think the little pressure that they've put on themselves or the extra weight that they've carried has kind of been lifted in a way like, you know what, this is a game, and we're going to go out and compete and fight our tails off, and whatever happens at the end of the day, we can live with that."
Bonded by tragedy, Chattanooga playing in Riley Grace's memory at Auburn Regional
What happened down in Auburn was nothing short of inspirational. Chattanooga got off to a hot start in Monday's opening round and held on for the 18-hole lead. That gave them more than enough cushion to advance comfortably, by 14 shots, as Conroy tied for seventh, Tennessee Wesleyan transfer John Houk tied for fourth and Oklahoma transfer Garrett Engle added a top-25 finish.
"Once [the roster] was set, it was all about trying to reestablish the culture here," Woodruff said Wednesday. "It helps having a bunch of new guys to kind of make that transition of raising our standard of what is expected, and that's not just results-wise, but on a day-to-day basis, what you need to do to be great. ... Last night kind of kind of sealed it for me, knowing that we kind of made it culture-wise. The guys were focused on winning today. There wasn't talk about just finishing top five. All of our guys had the right mindset. I knew it was going to be a battle, but I knew we were going to be there.
"Really proud of them, but the job's not done."
Chip shots: Auburn's regional victory marked the fifth victory of the season, tying a school record first set in 1996-97. ... Vanderbilt is making its ninth straight NCAA Championship appearance – the Commodores have advanced to six of the last seven match plays – while sophomore Gordon Sargent's T-7 marked his 11th top-7 finish of the season (11 starts). ... Ohio State will play back-to-back NCAA Championships for the first time since 1997-98. ... Colorado State, under first-year head coach Michael Wilson, is dancing at nationals for the first time since 2011. ... Tennessee has now failed to advance through regionals in six of its last seven tries.
The Cliffs at Keowee Falls, Salem, South Carolina
Advancing teams: 1. Georgia Tech (-53), 2. Arkansas (-45), 3. North Carolina (-43), 4. New Mexico (-42), 5. Texas A&M (-29; won playoff)
Just missed: 6. Clemson (-29; lost playoff), 7. Georgia Southern (-28), 7. San Diego State (-28), 9. Northern Illinois (-23)
Individual winner: Ryan Burnett, North Carolina (-17)
Advancing individual: Sam Lape, Furman (-15)
Final results: Team | Individual
Big story: About halfway through Wednesday's final round in Salem, Texas A&M was 14 shots out of fifth place. After starting the day in a share of eighth, the Aggies made a mess of the par-3 seventh (4 over) and played their first seven holes in a combined 4 under, which meant losing ground at an extremely low-scoring regional.
The rest was a different story.
Texas A&M, the No. 3 seed, got a 13-under performance over the final 11 holes from its four counters, including senior Sam Bennett, who showed his elite clutchness by carding six birdies in his last 10 holes – four in his final five – to lead a furious Aggies comeback. Bennett shot 7-under 65. Phichaksn Maichon added a 66. Daniel Rodrigues holed a 20-foot birdie at the last to post 70. William Paysse's 71 was thrown out. And A&M ended regulation at 29 under, tied with host Clemson for fifth.
Deficit erased.@sammy_golf24243 sent it to a playoff with this putt.#GigEm | 👍 | #BTHOthefield | courtesy: Clemson Athletics pic.twitter.com/mgUX2ETZZP
— Texas A&M Men's Golf (@AggieMensGolf) May 18, 2023
In the playoff, things got even more exciting. With a player from each team playing one hole among Nos. 14-18, Clemson's Zack Gordon and Maichon traded eagles on No. 16, with Maichon draining a 55-footer on top of Gordon's 60-foot make.
Vishnu Sadagopan's par at No. 14 was the final putt to drop, sealing a 2 under to 1 under win in sudden death for A&M.
"I'm speechless," Texas A&M head coach Brian Kortan said. "I can't explain it except for the guys never gave in. It was not looking good there for quite a while. Even with three or four holes left it looked improbable. Holy cow. The guys never gave in. The guys sort of new what we needed. They showed grit and determination. They didn't want it to end.
"I told the guys after the playoff, 'Sometimes you guys can take me to some pretty tough spots and then take me to the top of the hill – all in the same day.' It's great being a coach."
Chip shots: All five Georgia Tech players placed in the top 18, led by Christo Lamprecht and Connor Howe, who each tied for third at 14 under. The Yellow Jackets have now won two straight regional titles. ... Arkansas finished its regular season with exactly a .500 head-to-head winning percentage, yet the Razorbacks will head to a third straight NCAA Championship after top-11 finishes in each of the past two years at nationals. ... Burnett marks North Carolina's second straight regional medalist following Austin Greaser last season as the Tar Hells advance to nationals for the sixth straight season. ... New Mexico is through regionals for the first time since 2017. ... Georgia Southern had three counters post a double bogey on the back nine. ... Northern Illinois, trying to qualify for its first NCAA Championship since 1976, combined for just four birdies and an eagle on its final nine holes to drop from fifth around the turn to ninth, six shots back.
Eagle Eye GC, Bath, Michigan
Advancing teams: 1. Georgia (-29), 2. Illinois (-21), 3. Oregon (-14), 4. Florida (-12), 5. Texas (-10)
Just missed: 6. Kansas State (-7), 7. Michigan State (-1), 8. Liberty (+3)
Individual winner: Ben van Wyk, Georgia (-10)
Advancing individual: Luke O’Neill, Kansas State (-7)
Final results: Team | Individual
Big story: Texas will get the chance to defend its NCAA title.
The Longhorns arrived in Bath with just one returner from last year's national championship squad – senior Mason Nome – in the lineup. Fellow senior Travis Vick failed to qualify and didn't travel with the team, leaving Nome, senior transfer Brian Stark and three freshmen to navigate the postseason.
The new-look bunch checked the first box on Wednesday, closing in 2 over and hanging onto the fifth and final spot out of Eagle Eye Golf Club by three shots over Kansas State.
"This team is resilient," Texas head coach John Fields said, "but this is also a good team. Like it or not, you kind of assume the value of what has happened in the past, and that's not fair to these guys. They're carrying that around with them anyway, and they definitely want to be there [Grayhawk]. There were so many moving parts this year, and I'm proud of them. That's for damn sure."
Fields put his team, which played the toughest schedule in the country, through the wringer with a six-round qualifier between conference and regionals – and during graduation. Vick didn't make it out, but Nome, freshmen Tommy Morrison and Keaton Vo took advantage to grab the three available spots alongside exempt players, Stark and freshmen Christiaan Maas. Morrison, who will now head straight to Kiawah Island, South Carolina, to team up with Tony Romo in the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, led the way in Bath with a T-8 while Maas and Stark chipped in with top-25s.
Nome backed up with a 77 Wednesday to end up T-54, but the senior has perhaps played more pressure golf in the last month than anybody in the country, winning an individual event in Oklahoma before flying straight the ASU's event to join his team. He also advanced through U.S. Open locals and was T-12 at Big 12s to go along with two strenuous qualifiers prior to regionals. He made need a massage and a few days off.
In fact, the whole team may need a recharge as it prepares for a 16th straight NCAA Championship appearance, the NCAA's longest active streak.
As Fields said, he now wants his team to "free up." They've made it.
Chip shots: Georgia is one of 13 schools to advance both men's and women's teams to the NCAA Championship, though it's one of two (Mississippi State the other) to have both teams win regional titles this year. Both the Bulldogs and van Wyk posted wire-to-wire victories. ... Illinois senior Adrien Dumont de Chassart finished runner-up for the fourth time this season to lead the Illini back to the NCAA Championship after missing out last season to snap a 13-year streak. ... Oregon saw its advantage on sixth place shrink from 11 shots to just one before seven combined birdies and an eagle on their final five holes pushed the Ducks through to a second straight NCAA Championship by seven shots. ... Florida began the day in sixth, seven shots behind fifth-place Michigan State, but the hosts backed up to seventh and the Gators rallied with the round of the day, an 8-under 276. All three seniors – Fred Biondi, Ricky Castillo and Yuxin Lin – tied for 11th for Florida. ... Kansas State's counters played the final five holes in 2 over to miss by three shots.
Jimmie Austin OU GC, Norman, Oklahoma
Advancing teams: 1. Alabama (-28), 2. Oklahoma (-25), 3. Colorado (-23), 4. Texas Tech (-22), 5. Duke (-21)
Just missed: 6. North Florida (-20), 7. Wake Forest (-10), 8. LSU (-9)
Individual winner: Ludvig Aberg, Texas Tech (-14)
Advancing individual: Will King, Kansas (-9; won playoff)
Final results: Team | Individual
Big story: A couple of weeks ago, Alabama head coach Jay Seawell reckoned that perhaps some people had forgotten about his Crimson Tide, which had missed out on an NCAA regional last season because of the .500 rule and hadn't competed in an NCAA Championship since finishing runner-up to national champion Oklahoma State in 2018 at Karsten Creek.
"We ain't dead yet," Seawell exclaimed. "I know we haven't been in the arena for a few years, but we're not dead yet, I promise."
A year ago, Alabama also was supposed to host a regional, but it had to back out because of golf course conditions that were not championship quality. Oklahoma was awarded that regional, and so it was fitting that the Tide found themselves at Jimmie Austin this week for their regional return. They disappoint either, firing 28 under to clip the host Sooners by three shots for the title. Freshmen Nick Dunlap and Jonathan Griz finished T-4 and T-11, respectively, while senior Canon Claycomb, whom Seawell says has matured tremendously and become a great leader this season, tied for ninth.
The Tide have had their fair share of ups and downs this season, but at their best, they've proven they can hang with anyone. They beat Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech at the Linger Longer earlier this spring before taking the top-ranked Commodores to the final hole in four matches in a 4-1 quarterfinal loss at SECs.
"I think we're as good as a lot of teams that people consider great in the country," Seawell said, "because we've looked them in the eye before."
Eyes still open.
Chip shots: Duke's counters combined to shoot 13 under on their final nine (front), and North Florida's Davis Lee bogeyed his final hole, the par-4 ninth, as the Blue Devils clipped the Ospreys by a shot. ... Oklahoma got a brief scare, playings Nos. 9-11 in 7 over to go from 15 shots clear of sixth place to only five, but the Sooners never let things get closer. Drew Goodman's runner-up was his best finish of the season while Ben Lorenz's solo third stretches his top-10 streak to five starts for OU. ... Colorado will make its first trip to nationals since 2002. ... Texas Tech had just two players inside the top 25, though one of them was senior Ludvig Aberg, who won for the fourth time in his last six college starts. ... Kansas' Will King and Ole Miss' Hugo Townsend played off for the individual spot out of this regional, and it was King, after eight extra holes, punching his ticket.
Las Vegas Regional
Bear’s Best, Las Vegas
Advancing teams: 1. Arizona State (-59), 2. Stanford (-57), 3. Virginia (-49), 4. San Francisco (-45), 5. East Tennessee State (-43; won playoff)
Just missed: 6. Northwestern (-43; lost playoff), 7. Oklahoma State (-35), 8. Cincinnati (-29), 9. UNCG (-28)
Individual winners: Ben James, Virginia, and Matthew Anderson, San Francisco (-20)
Advancing individual: Jonas Baumgartner, Oklahoma State (-15; won playoff)
Final results: Team | Individual
Big story: Is that the best that Jack Nicklaus has got? The replica layout got torched this week as six teams played their way into a top-10 spot in the unofficial NCAA regional record book for lowest 54-hole team score in relation to par. (Combine this regional with the Salem Regional and 10 of the lowest 14 scores were recorded this week, including each of the lowest five.)
Though inconsistent record-keeping makes such records not 100% verified, it's safe to say that until Wednesday, no team had done what Arizona State did. The Sun Devils shot 59 under – also a program record – to edge Stanford by two shots and claim the school's ninth NCAA regional title, tying them with Texas for second all-time.
Sophomore Preston Summerhays led three Sun Devils in the top 10 with a third-place finish, his fifth top-5 in his last seven tournaments.
"It's always really hard to follow a peak performance with another great performance," Arizona State head coach Matt Thurmond said. "Our second round wasn't great, but it was good enough to set up a special day today. 59 under par is crazy! The guys did amazing. I'm very proud of them."
Chip shots: East Tennessee State was sixth and just a shot back of Northwestern to begin the day, but with one players left to finish, the Bucs were up one on the Wildcats. That's when Algot Kleen bogeyed the par-4 ninth fro the fairway and bogeyed to force a playoff, which took place with one player from each time playing Nos. 11, 15-18. ETSU then won easily in extra holes, 1 under to 2 over, to advance to its third straight NCAA Championship. ... Stanford received top-5s from Michael Thorbjornsen (T-5) and Ethan Ng (career-best fourth). ... Ben James now has five wins this season as the Cavs are headed to the NCAA Championship for the first time since 2017. ... For just the second time in the last 76 national championships, Oklahoma State will not be a team participant, though Jonas Baumgartner did earn an individual ticket via a four-hole playoff with Northwestern's Daniel Svard.
Morgan Hill Regional
The Institute GC, Morgan Hill, California
Advancing teams: 1. Mississippi State (-1), 2. BYU (+4), 3. Florida State (+7), 4. Baylor (+9), 5. Pepperdine (+11)
Just missed: 6. California (+14), 7. Missouri (+23), 8. Arizona (+25), 8. Louisville (+25), 10. North Carolina State (+26)
Individual winner: Luke Clanton, Florida State (-6)
Advancing individual: Riley Lewis, Loyola Marymount (-4; won playoff)
Final results: Team | Individual
Big story: For the fourth time in its last five tries, BYU is headed to the NCAA Championship.
The Cougars fired a 4-under 284, the best final round in the field by five shots, on a difficult scoring day at The Institute to climb three spots, from fifth to second. It helped that BYU carded 20 final-round birdies, six more than any other school in contention. David Timmins made six of his own as he shot 1-under 71 and was one of four BYU players in the top 20. Zach Jones led the team with a T-4 showing, though his 73 equaled Carson Lundell for worst score on the squad on Wednesday.
The performance shouldn't be all that surprising as the Cougars won three times this spring before heading to regionals, including at the West Coast Conference Championship, where they upset Pepperdine for their first title since 2017.
Now, BYU turned it focus toward Grayhawk, where because of religious reasons the Cougars will play their third round after Thursday's practice round on May 25. The other 29 teams in the field will play their third rounds as originally schedule on May 28.
Chip shots: Mississippi State is back in nationals for the first time since 2008, and the Bulldogs match a program record with three team wins in a season. ... Florida State survived a nine-birdie final round to advance to a third straight NCAA Championship. ... A season after not playing regionals because of the .500 rule, Baylor, also with just nine final-round birdies, will compete in its fifth NCAA Championship in its past six tries. ... Pepperdine, the 2021 NCAA champion, received two bogey-free final nines, from transfers Sam Choi and Luke Gifford, to hold off California, which was playing its first regional since Collin Morikawa's senior year in 2019. ... Arizona was one of just three top-20 teams not to qualify for nationals – No. 12 Tennessee and No. 20 Ole Miss are the other two. ... Riley Lewis birdied the third playoff hole to defeat N.C. State's Maximillian Steinlechner for the individual spot.