By Michael Mazur
Palm Coast, Fla.
Seems like they just grow them cooler in South Africa. Going about his business in much the same style as certain of his elder countrymen, Johannesburg’s Tyrone Van Aswegen led Oklahoma City University to its second consecutive NAIA Men’s Championship May 17 at the Matanzas Woods Golf Club.
All week, Van Aswegen, a 20-year-old sophomore, was the most composed player in the 142-man field. He was the most composed when he arrived at Matanzas and found a course with extremely narrow and crusty fast fairways. He was the most composed when the wind began howling as much as 30 mph and did not relent all week. And he was the most composed when thunderstorms eventually rolled into Central Florida late Friday afternoon, forcing a cancellation of the final round.
If you hadn’t looked twice, you might have thought you were watching fellow South Africans Ernie Els or Retief Goosen.
“I don’t know about that,” said Van Aswegen, who finished at 2-over-par 218, one shot ahead of Berry (Ga.) College’s Zane Goldthorp and Florida Gulf Coast’s Derek Lamely. “Those guys have done so great for South Africa, and I’ve got a long, long way to go before any of that.”
Van Aswegen is a product of the same highly touted junior golf programs in South Africa that produced both U.S. Open champions.
These days, however, he’s the working end of Oklahoma City’s impressive program.
“He’s a talented, talented kid,” said OCU coach Kyle Blaser, whose Stars became the first team to win in back-to-back seasons since Huntington did so in 1985-89. “He’d been so close all year, and I kept telling him that if he was patient, his time would come. Who could’ve picked a better time than at the national tournament?”
Van Aswegen made it look like it was by design. Playing a 1-iron from nearly every tee on every day, he found the fairways all week, while others’ hopes drifted away in Matanzas’ blustery winds.
“You had to be patient out there,” he said. “That was the ultimate word for the week – patience. And a good 1-iron, of course.”
Van Aswegen’s final pairing had completed the 13th hole when officials were forced to pull players off the course because of lightning. It did not relent in the next couple of hours, and finally the decision came to cancel the last round.
“It’s just so unfortunate,” said Blaser, whose team shot 36-over 900 through three days and four shots ahead of Berry. “I wish we could have gone the distance, because we were on it today. As a team, we were 8 under at the turn.”
OCU was blazing in the final round. Van Aswegen was 3 under through 13 holes of play, and well on his way to the lowest individual score.
“I think we really would have showed them something today had it not been for this rain,” said Van Aswegen, who became the first medalist from the championship team since Jamie Burns of North Florida in 1993.
Goldthorp said he would have liked another day to catch Van Aswegen and the Stars.
“It definitely would have been tough to catch them (Oklahoma City), but you always want the chance to try,” said Goldthorp. “Finishing second means a lot, though. I’m a sophomore and I’ve got two years left, so maybe we’ll do it next year.”
The only problem for Goldthorp and others is that Van Aswegen also has two years left. In fact, three of OCU’s top-five finishers (Van Aswegen, Yasin Ali and Andreas Rydholm) are sophomores or freshmen.
“To win it the first time with three freshmen was tough, so I obviously knew we had the foundation this year,” said Blaser. “I’m just completely thrilled and proud of this team. They’re a good, hard-working bunch, and I’m excited about our future.”