MILTON, Ga. – There’s no better way to close out your college career than playing in the NCAA Championship, especially when your team is not with you and it’s your first trip to college golf’s big show.
That’s how it is this week for Austin Peay State senior Dustin Korte.
The Governors, winners of the Ohio Valley Conference this season, failed to finish in the top five and advance to the finals out of the NCAA regional in Tempe, Ariz., tying for seventh.
However, Korte had the best tournament of his career in Arizona, placing eighth at Karsten Golf Club and earning the lone individual qualifying spot for the low player not on one of the advancing teams.
Korte shot career bests in the opening round (64), for 36 holes (135) and 54 holes (204) to become Austin Peay’s first NCAA finals participant since the late Craig Rudolph in 1987, two years before the introduction of regional competition.
“To be playing for, and representing, Austin Peay in a national championship is pretty cool,” Korte said after his second round here at Capital City Club’s Crabapple course. “It’s especially neat because no one really knows where Austin Peay is (it’s in Clarksville, Tenn.).
“It just feels amazing to be in this position,” said Korte, a two-time all-Ohio Valley Conference selection. “I feel extremely blessed. For me, the biggest thing, the pressure, is I want to represent my school the best I can.”
In his first 36 holes, Korte, No. 244 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, has endured only three bad holes, all resulting in double bogeys. His opening-round 5-over 75 included one birdie, four bogeys and a double. He came back Wednesday with a 2-over 72, recording a pair of birdies and a pair of doubles.
Starting on the back nine the second round, Korte birdied the 11th hole before making double bogeys at 14 and 17. He played the final 10 holes solidly, with a birdie and nine pars.
“If I didn’t have my wedge working today, I might have shot 80,” Korte said of his second round. “I made some great up-and-downs. Today I scored about as good as I could, except for those two holes.”
Korte went through his first 3 1/2 seasons without a tournament victory. Then this spring, he notched his first title with a three-shot victory against a pretty strong field at the Memphis Intercollegiate and two weeks later posted 5-under 211 to capture the Mizzou Intercollegiate.
“He’s seen a little of everything over his career at Austin Peay,” Governors coach Kirk Kayden said. “He’s experienced the highs and lows of our teams over the years. He certainly has meant a great deal to our program in the four years he’s been here.
“He’s a great team leader and someone all our players look up to and respect,” Kayden said. “To have him playing here this week and having him represent our school like this is fantastic. He’s one of the finest young men you will ever meet.”
There were plenty of individuals in the starting field of 156 ranked higher than Korte.
But the 6-foot-3-inch Korte, the Governors’ lone senior, arguably might have ranked No. 1 in fan following.
More than 20 people from Korte’s hometown of Metropolis, Ill., made the six-hour drive south to watch him play. Among them: his father, Chuck; mother, Beth; and younger brothers Dalton, 18, and Chase, 15. Also included were both sets of grandparents, a pair of aunts and uncles, and five cousins, plus his girlfriend and three of his close friends from home.
“I can’t believe there were too many players with that kind of gallery of family and friends,” Korte said. “Having them here meant so much to me. It really helps add to how special a week this is for me.”
Korte will play his final collegiate round Thursday in the last day of stroke play before the championship turns into a team match-play finish for the last three days.
He plans to return to Austin Peay and take three summer classes and graduate in August with a degree in business management.
He’ll play amateur golf in the summer, competing in the Southern Am and hoping to qualify for the Western and U.S. Amateurs.
“I feel my game is getting better and at some point in time I’ll more than likely turn professional,” Korte said. “Right now, though, I’m in no rush to jump into things.”
And for now, for at least one more day, Korte will take his time and let the experience of playing in the national collegiate championship soak in.