MIDDLETOWN, R.I. – Southern Methodist came this week to the southern coast of Rhode Island, a popular summer vacation spot, to show everyone how good the team is at hanging out and having fun. The Mustangs, at this point in the season probably the hottest team in college golf, used a few good golf swings and something else having to do with chemistry and experience to win their second tournament in as many weeks Tuesday at the Adams Cup, holding off Georgia Southern for a six-shot victory.
It may have taken University of Connecticut sophomore Jeb Buchanan less time to get here, but his three consecutive 69s for a 9-under 207 total to win medalist honors by two shots over Georgia Southern’s Ryan Zabroske will register just as much mileage through college golf circles.
“It’s really just starting to sink in,” said Buchanan, standing in front of UConn’s team van as the van carrying Southern Methodist and the Adams Cup pulled out of the parking lot.
A week earlier, Southern Methodist cruised to a 10-shot victory over Arkansas at the Gopher Invitational in Minnesota, kicking the Mustangs into some kind of gear that should now make everyone pay attention.
“That’s two weeks in a row that the guys in a middle of a round have just started really trusting each other, got strong and finished it out,” said coach Jay Loar, his Mustangs shooting a final-round 291 for a 12-over 876 total and a victory that didn’t go as far down to the wire as several coaches figured Tuesday morning.
Runner-up Georgia Southern, which last week won the SpringHill Suites Intercollegiate in Florence, S.C., scuffled its way to a 298, having to post three Tuesday scores over 75; second-round leader New Mexico couldn’t find anything better than 74 and shot 301 to finish third, eight shots back.
Battling for story of the tournament, Connecticut shot a final-round 293 with only four players in the lineup Tuesday to finish sixth, two shots ahead of Central Florida. The Huskies may have even found themselves in contention at the end had Matt Carroll – a Floridian and the only player in the UConn lineup not from New York, New Jersey or Connecticut – not been forced to withdraw with a knee injury that the Huskies fear could be a torn MCL. Instead, UConn had to count an 80 during the second round and play Tuesday with just a foursome.
Buchanan, of Loudonville, NY., just outside Albany, eased the pain, shooting three of the tournament’s only 10 sub-70 scores.
“I could really tell he was just totally into it,” said UConn coach Dave Pezzino, chalking up his first individual victory in his second year with the team. “He just played solid golf, every single shot.”
Buchanan, a first-time visitor to Newport National like most players in the field, said he worked just as hard this summer as any of his teammates. They struggled last year, finishing no better than eighth place, and didn’t like it.
“We wanted to show everyone that we were better than that,” said Buchanan, a guy whom Pezzino said “has a little swagger to him – not in a bad way” and seems to enjoy playing with a chip on his shoulder.
Buchanan played in a few American Junior Golf Association events, won an International Junior Golf Tour event and had a couple of high finishes in New York state junior events; he also attended the IMG/David Leadbetter Academy during his junior year of high school at the same time as Oklahoma State sophomore Peter Uihlein, a stalwart on the victorious U.S. Walker Cup team.
Buchanan said he thought that he could play at a big-time Southern program, and put his name out to several such schools.
There were no takers.
“Being turned down inspired me more,” Buchanan said. “I wanted even more to prove them wrong.”
A good summer that included an eighth-place finish at the New York State Amateur has helped his confidence, Buchanan said, adding a “mentally-controlled game” to what Pezzino already sees as a good touch, lots of length and “intangibles in the way you can’t teach height in basketball.”
But Buchanan, who ended last year No. 1190 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, would rather talk team. “Our team is coming up, and we’re going to be a good team,” he said.
According to anyone you talk to with a Southern Methodist golf shirt on, chemistry helps in that department. It’s the magic word, whether you like it or not.
“Let’s just say that we’re gelling together with good team chemistry,” said Loar, whose team started last season with 10th- and 15th-place finishes and ended without a trip to the winner’s circle or the postseason. The lineup last year also featured, for the most part, three freshmen and two sophomores.
“We have some great team chemistry this year, and we’re all kind of filling in for each other when someone doesn’t play well,” said sophomore Matt Schovee, who tied for fourth individually at 1-over 217. “We’re playing well as a team; that’s the only way to describe it.”
It’s simple, junior Kelly Kraft said. The guys are just hanging out more than they used to.
“That’s pretty much it, chemistry,” said Kraft, who finished at 1-under 215 to lead the Mustangs for the second consecutive week. Last week, Kraft shot a 64 on his way to medalist honors at the Gopher Invite to help the Mustangs to the best final round by eight shots.
“They didn’t fade again this week,” Loar said. “They’re learning how to finish.”