Team champion: Texas Tech (13-under 851)
Individual champion: Russell Henley, Georgia (9-under 207)
The top 5: 2. Texas A&M (852); 3. TCU (858); 4. North Florida (859); 5. Baylor (869, won spot on first playoff hole against Georgia).
Close, but no cigar: 6. Georgia (869, lost spot on first playoff hole); 7. Pepperdine (877); 8. Tulsa (879).
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Solo act: When Russell Henley’s day on the golf course was done, he walked away with his head down and a saddened look on his face. He was not a very happy camper. What’s surprising about that is Henley had just finished three days of play at 9-under 207 and was tournament medalist. That showing sent him advancing to the NCAA Championship finals the first week in June at The Honors Course.
His dejected demeanor came from the fact that he would be making the trip to Chattanooga, Tenn., alone to play as an individual.
His Bulldog teammates will be staying home after Georgia lost on the first hole of a playoff against Baylor for the fifth and final qualifying spot.
The last time Georgia failed to advance to the NCAA finals was the 1996-97 season, coach Chris Haack’s inaugural campaign as Bulldogs coach. Along the way, Haack’s Bulldogs have won two national titles.
Georgia certainly gave it a run and made it exciting, however. Starting the final round 11 shots out of fifth place and needing to overtake six teams for that No. 5 spot, Georgia, led by Henley’s 3-under 69, made a valliant charge and shot 4-under 284 to force the playoff.
“We just couldn’t pull it off,” said Haack. “But I’m proud of these guys. They never quit. They fought so hard to come back. I’m sure they’re all very disappointed right now, but hopefully we’ll learn from it and move on.”
It wasn’t to the Bulldogs’ advantage that the playoff would begin on the par-4 18th hole. Over the three tournament rounds, Georgia played the hole in 9-over par among its counters.
Red Raiders make their case: In his 10 years as head coach at Texas Tech, Greg Sands’ Red Raiders have notched their share of victories. Some bigger than others.
But none, to say the least, as big as the one Saturday at the NCAA South Central Regional. With a closing round of 3-under 285, Texas Tech finished at 13-under 851 to edge host team Texas A&M by a shot. It’s the first region title ever for the Red Raiders.
“Last year we were right in there with a chance to win, but finished second by a couple of shots to Florida,” Sands said. “It was a good experience for us and we put that experience to good use today.”
For years, Texas Tech has produced solid teams, ranking in the top 20 time and again. Still, it seemed as though it never could get that respect of being one of the nation’s top-tier teams.
That might be changing.
“Sometimes you just have to convince people you’re good and I think we did that here this week,” Sands said. “To win this tournament and to beat No. 2-ranked Texas A&M on its own course, I think that shows everyone something.”
While he would have liked to see his Aggies come away with a regional title at home, Texas A&M coach J.T. Higgins wasn’t complaining.
“We had all five of our guys shoot par or better (last round) and that’s a very good thing,” Higgins said. “Texas Tech just played great and nipped us. But we’ll get another shot at them in a week or so (at NCAA finals).
And I feel very confident that if we get in the top eight (after 54 holes of stroke play) and make it to match play (at finals), we have a great chance to repeat (as NCAA champions). I think 1-5 we are as solid as any team in the country and could really do well again in match play.”
Bears finally out of hibernation: The Baylor Bears have awakened from their NCAA finals hibernation, even if it did take a playoff alarm clock and a long, nervous afternoon of waiting. This will be the Bears’ first trip to the national finals since 2002.
First off in the morning, Baylor finished the round at 1-over 285 for a 5-over 869 total. Still, their eyes were glued to the scoreboard as they watched Georgia make a charge.
With the Bulldogs following in the next wave, the entire Baylor team sat on the bleachers by the ninth hole (Georgia’s last) and watched intently.
“It was almost unbearable,” said Baylor coach Greg Priest. “It was out of our control and all we could do is watch and hope.”
After the two teams finished tied for the fifth and final qualifying spot, they headed to the par-4 18th for a playoff. The first fivesome had three Georgia players and two from Baylor, with the next five some having three Bears and two Bulldogs.
The first group was Bryden Macpherson (par), T.J. Mitchell (+2) and Rob Bennett (+1) of Georgia and Ryan O’Rear (par) and Cody Paladino (par) of Baylor. The second group was Henley (par) and Harris English (par) of Georgia and Payne Gniewak (par), Lorenzo Scotto (+1) and Joakim Mikkelson (-1) of Baylor. After dropping the high score, Baylor was 1 under and Georgia was 1 over.
“When the guys came out today they knew what they had to do,” said Priest. “They did it, even if it did turn into a real nail-biter. This is so great for our program and I’m just so happy and proud of our guys. Right now, it’s just such a great feeling.”
Round of the day: That belonged to North Florida. The Ospreys comfortably secured their first trip to the NCAA Division I finals with a closing 7-under 281 for a 5-under 859 total.
Not so shocking: Pretty much all season long if you wanted to know how Wichita State played you’d get a good idea by seeing how Shocker senior Dustin Garza played. That again was the case at the South Central Regional. Garza shot 66-70 the first two rounds and was tied for the individual lead, while the Shockers stood in fourth place at 3-under par.
It was also the case the final round, but in a reverse manner. Garza, who was looking for his eight tournament win of the season, had one of his worst showings of his career. He started off solid with two birdies on his first four holes, but then made seven bogeys and a double the rest of the way.
The end result was a 7-over 79 that left him tied for 14th. And the Shockers? They followed suit, closing with a 307 and tumbling all the way down into a tie for ninth.
Quote of the day: “As I heard (Duke men’s basketball coach) Mike Krzyzewski once say, ‘We’re not defending anything. We’re pursuing another championship.’ That’s how we look at it,” Texas A&M coach J.T. Higgins, on his Aggies, who will head to the NCAA finals and try to become the first team since Houston in 1984-85 to win back-to-back NCAA Division I golf titles.