One Agonizing Shot
May 19, 2012
One lousy stroke.
In Athens, Ga., the 16th-ranked University of New Mexico men's golf team sat helplessly in the clubhouse while Iowa's Chris Brandt made a bogey on No. 18 Saturday to help the Hawkeyes fend off the Lobos by one stroke for fifth place in the NCAA Regional and the final berth in the NCAA Championships at the end of the month.
The Lobos shot an 8-over 292 at the University of Georgia Golf Course to finish the 54-hole Athens Regional at 15-over 867 (285-290-292) and in sixth place. Iowa shot a 1-over 285 Saturday, scored a 288-293-285=866 overall for a 14-over score. The top five teams from each of the six NCAA Regionals advance to the NCAA Tournament in Pacific Palisades, Calif., from May 29-June 3.
No. 2 Alabama ran away with the 13-team event, scoring 24 under par (269-276-283=828) and a 25-stroke victory over East Carolina (276-281-296=853). No 12 North Florida finished third (271-291-296=858) at 4 over and host Georgia (280-288-296=864) came in fourth at 10 over.
"It's a tough way to finish your season," Lobo coach Glen Millican said. "It's a really tough way to finish your season when you come up one stroke short."
New Mexico started the day in fifth place with a two-stroke edge over North Carolina-Wilmington. Iowa was six strokes behind. The Lobos climbed as high as fourth place with a five stroke advantage over the sixth-place teams midway through the final round.
The top four Lobos, however, were 4-over-par on Nos. 14-18. Iowa, meanwhile, played the same five holes at 3-under to steal the bid.
"Just too many mistakes over those final holes," Millican said. "It was a great learning experience from the standpoint that they learned how one shot can make a huge difference."
The Lobos were trying to qualify for nationals for the first time since 2007. UNM also missed qualifying for the NCAA Championship in 2009 when the team finished the San Francisco regional in sixth place, losing an NCAA bid by one stroke.
"It feels awful to never get to play at nationals - missing it by a shot twice," says junior James Erkenbeck, who was a true freshman on that 2009 team. "It is very disappointing to lose by a shot. It feels like the entire year came down to one shot, and now we have to wait until next season."
Erkenbeck shot a 1-over 272 (67-74-72) to finish at even-par 213 and a tie for 12th place. Junior John Catlin finished at 3-over-par for the tournament, shooting 71-71-74=219 for an 18th-place tie. Freshman Victor Perez (74-72-63=219) was 6-over and tied for 29th place.
Freshman Gavin Green completed his round at 2-over 73, and his 74-73-73=220 tied for 36th place. Only freshman Sean Romero really struggled with the course, shooting 73-79-78=230 and finishing tied for 68th in the 75-player event.
"I think everyone wants another shot at making nationals," Erkenbeck said, "and we will all learn from this year's finish."
The Crimson Tide had the top three individual players in Justin Thomas, who won the event with a 9-under 204, second-place Bobby Wyatt (8-under 205) and third-place Cory Whitsett (5-under 208).
But it was Iowa's Ian Vandersee, with a 5-under 66 for Saturday's low round, who sunk the Lobos' cause.
"Iowa just happened to have one guy go off and carry their team," Millican said. "Us shooting 6-over (Friday) and 8-over today on that golf course is not bad golf. If (Vandersee) shoots a 3-under, we'd be telling him `Good round' and getting ready for nationals. That's just how it goes, sometimes."
Millican lauded his team's play during the 2011-12 season, one in which he relied on three freshmen the entire spring season. UNM won one team event - the Lone Star Invitational in San Antonio, Texas in October - and Catlin (Arizona Invitational) and Perez (Aggie Invitational) each captured individual honors once this season.
The Lobos finished in the top five in their first 11 tournaments, but had two sixth-place results in their final three events.
"It was a great season for us, from start to finish," Millican said. "We were ranked in the Top 25 almost the entire year. This result doesn't change the year we had, but we don't have a chance to play for a national championship. To not get to that event is really disappointing for us.
"This was a great group of guys to play with; James and John set the tone for us and our three freshmen did some great things. We just have to learn from this, especially how one shot can make a huge difference. We certainly have to figure out how to get back here to Georgia next year."
The University of Georgia Golf Course is the site of the 2013 NCAA Championship.