Every year, a few surprises come out of the NCAA Division I Men’s Regionals.
The West Regional at the Omni Tucson National Resort produced this year’s biggest surprise – and maybe the biggest surprise in regional competition since its inception in 1989.
It had nothing to do with perennial powers Florida or Arizona, who ended up in an exciting desert shootout that ended with both teams finishing as co-champions at 37-under-par 827 May 20. That was 13 strokes better than Arizona State and Washington, and 18 ahead of fifth-place North Carolina State.
No, the surprise came from a team that tied for sixth, a team that some people didn’t even know played college golf. They do now.
Loyola Marymount, which began its men’s golf program in 1970, sent shock waves when it fired a final-round 6-under 282 for a 17-under 847 total to become what many believe to be the lowest-seeded team ever to qualify for the NCAA finals.
The Lions, who earned their first spot in the NCAA postseason by winning the West Coast Conference Championship, were seeded 25th out of 27 teams in the West and were ranked No. 116 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. In recent history, only Rhode Island’s advancing to the finals in 2004 can compare. The Rams, ranked No. 117 by Golfweek, were seeded No. 22 in that year’s East Regional.
“This is absolutely huge, not only for our program, but for our school,” said Alex Galvan, who is in his fourth season at the Lions’ helm. “This is the most surreal experience in my life. I am just so proud of our players. . . . Right now it’s all so overwhelming.”
Sharing sixth with the Lions was BYU, the No. 3 seed and No. 10-ranked team. It was pretty touchy most of the way for the Cougars, who started the final round tied for 11th and spent much of the last day below the 10th spot. But BYU rallied late and shot an 11-under 277 to comfortably make the cut.
Also headed to Sunriver, Ore., are eighth-place East Tennessee State, along with another pair of surprises in the 14th-seeded Pepperdine Waves and the 21st-seeded Nevada Wolf Pack, who tied for ninth.
Individually, Florida freshman Billy Horschel and Nevada senior Casey Watabu tied for medalist honors with 13-under-par 203 totals. Horschel closed with a 6-under 66, and Watabu fired the tournament’s best round of 8-under 64. Another shot back at 204 were Rhys Davies of East Tennessee State and Zach Bixler of Washington.
Florida shot a final round 16-under 272, and Arizona shot 13-under 275, including a birdie by Josh Esler on the final hole that forced the tie. Since the main purpose for regionals is to determine the top 10 teams to advance, no playoff was held.
The 37-under team total is a new school record for Florida and equals the school record in relation to par for Arizona. It also is the lowest total in regional history.
“This really became a two-team shootout and it was a lot of fun to watch,” said Arizona coach
Rick LaRose. “I saw a lot of birdies being made out there, which was pretty cool. I’ll tell you one thing, this is the first time at a regional that I actually enjoyed myself. I think both (Florida coach) Buddy (Alexander) and I go away from this with a good feeling.”
But likely not as good as Loyola Marymount’s.