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MILTON, Ga. – At some point, J.T. Higgins will look back at the 2013 NCAA Championship and point to many things that could have saved just one shot. But shortly after Texas A&M was the odd team out Thursday evening in a four-team playoff for three spots, this one hurt.
Tyler Dunlap had just made a 50-foot putt for birdie on the eighth hole, his 17th of the day. After an errant drive forced him to play safe, the sophomore made a 40-foot par putt on his final hole that appeared to keep the Aggies one shot clear of the cutline.
However, Dunlap and the two other players in his group – UCF’s Greg Eason and Arizona State’s John Rahm – were notified that they would need to proceed to the clubhouse to discuss a possible pace-of-play violation.
According to Mike Carter, chairman of the NCAA Men’s Golf Committee, the group missed two checkpoints, which subjects them to a one-stroke penalty. A rules official spent 11 holes with the group, timing shots. There were multiple bad times against two of the players.
In the end, Dunlap and Eason were assessed one-stroke penalties for slow play. Rahm was not.
“Rules are rules, and I get it,” Higgins said. “I think it was pretty arbitrary. I really do. They made up their mind they were going to give a penalty, and they dug their heels in and there was no getting out of it.”
Dunlap was a little more reserved than his coach.
“I felt like we could have made time par and we didn’t, and that’s all that matters. It just hurts right now,” Dunlap said.
This can be chalked up as a lesson learned for Dunlap and his teammates.
“We will deal with it and come back better next year and make sure we don’t have to rely on being inside the bubble by one or two (strokes),” Dunlap said. “It was fully in our control today to shoot a great round and be the two or three seed, and we didn’t do it.”
Some may think the two penalty shots handed out today had to be done after the rules committee had issued a slow-play penalty to UCLA’s Jonathan Garrick in the second round.
For Higgins and his squad, it looked like they were going to return to match play for the first time since winning the 2009 NCAA Championship.
“It was the most amazing rounds of golf I have ever been involved with,” Higgins said. “The ups and downs, the birdies, the bounceback; they never quit. Just when I thought the season was over, someone would rattle off a couple of birdies.”
The Aggies, who finished at 2-over 842, did not take advantage of their morning tee time. Playing alongside Arizona State in the opening round, Texas A&M posted 5-over 285 but closed with rounds of 275 and 282, the latter two from the afternoon wave.
“Our two best rounds were in the afternoon,” Higgins said. “We did not play that good in the morning, and that’s probably what cost us the most.”
Dunlap left the Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course not blaming anyone.
“I am more disappointed because Cameron Peck came to Texas A&M to win a national championship, and that’s what we were striving for this week. (Cameron) and Drew Evans. I don’t feel sorry for myself or anybody. I feel worse for those guys.”