SORRENTO, Fla. – There’s just something about RedTail.
Central Florida successfully defended its Conference USA crown at RedTail Golf Club on Tuesday, earning an automatic spot in next month’s NCAA regionals.
The Knights won last year’s Southeast Regional, which also was at RedTail.
UCF, No. 52 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, shot 6-under 858 for an 18-stroke victory. Rice and Southern Miss tied for second at 876.
“I don’t know what it is about this place,” said senior Simon Ward, the 2009 C-USA champion who matched par each day for a 216 total and sixth place. “I don’t know if it’s the greens. We must just like the air up here.”
Rice’s Christopher Brown shot 70-69-70 for a 7-under 209 and five-shot victory to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA regional. UCF teammates Brad Schneider (73), Nuno Henriques (66) and Connor Arendell (67) tied for second at 2-under 214 with Southern Mississippi’s Wes Carter (67).
“(RedTail) just fits our eye,” Arendell said. “We were all prepared, and we knew we needed to win.”
The Knights, who entered the C-USA tournament with a 61-67-2 record, needed at least a top-three finish to avoid falling victim to the “.500 rule’’ and secure a postseason berth.
A wire-to-wire victory erased any doubt.
Bryce Wallor, UCF’s first-year coach, stressed a streamlined mental approach on the golf course.
“They practiced so much and so hard that they ended up getting down on themselves,” Wallor said. “We really worked on getting negative thoughts out of our heads. You can’t have a positive and a negative thought going at the same time. ‘One thought per second.’ ’’
There was plenty of drama for the Knights on their adopted home course, which is about an hour from their east Orlando campus.
Schneider withstood a four-putt triple bogey on the par-4 10th hole to post his third-round 73. In a second-round 68, he made eagles on the par-5 seventh and 12th holes, which he played 6 under combined for the three rounds.
After back-to-back 74s, Henriques shot a tournament-best 66 – with birdies on the first two and last two holes – in the final round.
Arendell, a sophomore transfer from Louisville, posted a third-round 67 to land his first top-5 college finish.
NCAA regional bids will be announced May 10 for play May 20-22 at six sites: Alpharetta, Ga.; Bryan, Texas; New Haven, Conn.; Notre Dame, Ind.; Santee, Calif.; and Bremerton, Wash.
The NCAA Championship is June 1-6 at The Honors Course in Chattanooga, Tenn.