A bad shot almost cost Colin Clark the NCAA Division III individual title May 12, and his father was the one who took it.
As he was bringing his club back on the 17th hole of the El Campeon course at Mission Inn Golf and Tennis Resort, Clark heard the clicking of a camera and “bladed it off to the right.” His father, Jim, a Duke University professor, was the photographer at fault.
“He took the picture right in my backswing,” said Clark, a sophomore at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C. As he told the story, he was laughing, partly because he ended up with a fortunate lie and scrambled for par, but mostly because he knew even a 20 on that hole wouldn’t have cost his team the NCAA Division III Championship.
Guilford started the final round with a 20-stroke lead and closed with a 22-over 1,174 for a comfy 25-shot victory. The University of Redlands (1,199) was runner-up for the second consecutive year, having lost by 12 shots to Gustavus Adolphus in 2004. Greensboro College finished third at 1,205, and Methodist fourth at 1,207.
Guilford won its first NCAA title in 2002, mounting a final-round comeback to beat Greensboro by six shots. The Quakers also won the NAIA championship in 1989. All three crowns have come under head coach Jack Jensen, now looking forward to his 30th season.
“Going into the last two days, playing in the last group, it doesn’t get any better than that,” said Jensen, admittedly “just an ex-basketball coach who’s a pretty good recruiter.” (Jensen also guided the 1973 Guilford men’s basketball team – featuring former NBA stars World B. Free and M.L. Carr – to an NAIA title.)
“I told them in the first meeting of the season – and I shouldn’t have done it, they always say in golf you should never have expectations – but I told them ‘You guys are good enough to win a national championship.’ ”
The team crown was all that mattered to Clark, who won the individual title in a lackluster playoff against teammate Dave Patterson.
Both players missed short putts to bogey the 18th hole and finish the tournament at 2-over 290. Neither player wanted to go any further, however, and both asked if they could leave as co-champions.
Twenty minutes before the playoff started, Clark and Patterson walked side-by-side from the 18th green, over a bridge and toward the clubhouse, chatting, chuckling and enjoying the championship their team had won.
“This feels great,” said Clark, hurrying to join teammates Jeff Osberg, Brant Stovall and Joseph Poplin near the scoreboard.
“I am lucky, very, very lucky,” said Patterson, a senior who sat out last season but was part of the Quakers’ championship team in 2002, when he also was individual runner-up at nationals. “My sophomore year, we had three seniors on that team and I envied them. They went out winners.”
Asked if they cared if there was a playoff, both Clark and Patterson responded simultaneously with a firm “No.”
“If it was someone else, I wouldn’t care, but why would I want to have a playoff with my teammate?” asked Clark. “We just want to share it.”
But NCAA rules are not meant to be broken, so the pair hopped on a golf cart and headed back to the 18th tee. Clark hit the fairway and landed his approach about 15 feet from the cup, then two-putted for a routine par. Patterson missed the green with his approach, chipped to about 4 feet but missed his par putt.
The playoff really only decided which player the television cameras attacked afterwards.
“Today is the first time I’ve had a TV camera on me before,” said Clark, who showed more nerves during his interview with The Golf Channel than he did on the course.
But the cool thing about TV cameras is that they don’t make noise during your backswing.