Make no mistake, Kentucky won the NCAA Central Regional with the long ball.
“The shortest person on our team still hits it 300 or 310 off the tee,” said Kentucky junior John Holmes, who finished at 2-under-par 214 to win the individual championship May 22 at the Kampen Course at Purdue’s Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex. “Everybody on the team hit it 40 yards past their guys all week.
“When you’re not getting any roll and we’re hitting 6-irons and 7-irons into some of these long par 4s and they’re having to hit 3-iron or 3-wood, it’s a big advantage for us.”
Led by Holmes and Brandon Waldrop, the sixth-seeded Wildcats were able to hit it long and just straight enough to stay out of the considerable rough and signature waste bunkers surrounding the fairways on the 7,239-yard Pete Dye design.
Waldrop led the tournament after the second round, but played his last three holes in 5 over to finish at 1 over and in a tie for third.
Kentucky also overcame the loss of sophomore Matt Kohn, who was ruled academically ineligible just before the tournament began.
“They asked us to step up,” Waldrop said of a team meeting with coaches May 20 after the first round. “And I guess we did.”
The Wildcats finished off a strong three-day performance with an 11-over-par 299 Saturday. Their three-day 882 total was good enough for an 11-stroke win over top-seeded Oklahoma State.
“It just all kind of came together for us,” said Kentucky coach Brian Craig. “It’s been an amazing week for the Wildcats.
“Considering we were down a man, I wanted winning to be the target and the goal because if you think you’re going to be around the bubble, you’re probably going to end up around the bubble. But I never dreamed we’d win by this many shots, so to do that and play well is really an incredible thrill and it gives us a lot of confidence.”
Final-round play was delayed for about an hour because of lightning, but the early leaders, including Kentucky, already were in the clubhouse.
Runner-up Oklahoma State was 12 over par on the final two holes and finished at 20 over on a day that was not conducive to scoring. Oklahoma turned in Saturday’s best round with a 9-over 297 to finish third at 896.
The top 10 teams advanced to the NCAA Division I Men’s Championship June 1-4 at The Homestead at Hot Springs, Va. While Texas A&M (seeded 15th), Purdue (19th) and Kent State (20th) made it to the NCAA finals, higher seeds such as Minnesota (fourth), Arkansas (seventh), Kansas (eighth), Tulsa (ninth) and Colorado (10th) did not.
Like Kentucky, Texas A&M used its length off the tee to gain an advantage it couldn’t find at a frustrating Big 12 Championship, where it finished 10th.
“As much as you want to win your conference, this tournament was probably just as important to our program,” said Texas A&M Coach J.T. Higgins. “We tried not dwell on (the finish at the Big 12) and wanted to come here and take advantage of a golf course that we felt played into our hands more than other people’s.”