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You hear it all the time: Our goal is to win a national championship. Coaches say it; Players say it. That phrase is being tweaked a bit in men’s college golf. Now, you might hear something like: We want to get into that top eight.
The top eight is now the aiming point for teams. In order to win that national championship in men’s golf, a team must first finish inside the top eight after 54 holes of stroke-play competition. For one team this week at Riviera Country Club, it came up one shot short.
That saying fits a program such as Liberty University, located in Lynchburg, Va. and member of the Big South Conference, perfectly. Had anyone affiliated with Flames golf in the past year had said our goal is to win a national championship, one might say or think good luck with that. But, nowadays if you can find a way to that top eight, a chance exists.
Liberty almost had that chance entering the third and final round of stroke play alone in seventh place. However, the Flames would post a 9-over 293 and come up one shot shy of a playoff for the eighth and final spot in match play.
“It is always hard to fall short by a small margin, but in golf it happens often,” Liberty head coach Jeff Thomas said. I was very happy with how our team performed at nationals. The guys did a great job keeping in the present and played well. We would have loved to have made match play and it was our goal from day one last August, but it wasn’t meant to be for this year. Finishing 10th at the national championship is something this team can be proud of and it is a great accomplishment.”
Liberty’s effort at Riviera was not a surprise. The Flames, which ended the fall season ranked No. 30 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, had won three consecutive events to prior to the NCAA Championship – winning the ECU/UNCW River Landing Intercollegiate, Big South Conference Championship and the NCAA East Regional.
“We want to become one of the best programs in the nation,” Thomas said. “We are not there yet, but this year moves us forward in the process. There are many challenges in front of us, but we are excited about the future. We have a great group of players who believe in Liberty and what we are trying to accomplish as a golf program. Hopefully with the successes we have had this season, we will continue to gain credibility and everything will get a little bit easier.”
You might want to stay familiar with the Liberty name. The Flames lose just one player in Robert Karlsson, who is their top player, but with three sophomores and a freshman returning with the experience of winning a regional and playing here at Riviera this week, the Flames will be mentioned again a time or two.