Clemson takes regional title; University of Rhode Island is standout

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With darkness quickly settling in, the NCAA East Regional finally came to an end May 22 at Yale Golf Course, and the three-day storyline was evident.

For the record, Clemson University shot a final-round, 3-under 277 to finish at 16-over 856 and capture its third consecutive regional title, by six shots over Penn State. But the biggest story of all came from a small school in New England thanks to a gutsy, gallant performance from the University of Rhode Island, which qualified for regionals via its victory in the Atlantic 10 Conference Championship.

It came from a squad that entered regional play seeded No. 22 of 27 teams and ranked 117th in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, and it came against a starting field that included 11 top 30 teams, including four of the top six in the nation.

This season’s Cinderella story commenced when the Rams shot a final-round 296 for a 37-over 877 and finished eighth in this elite field to become the first team from the Northeast to qualify for the NCAA Division I Men’s Championship since regional competition was instituted in 1989.

“It (qualifying) feels like I always thought it would . . . wonderful,” said veteran Rhode Island coach Tom Drennan. “I said before the (final) round, if we could pull this off (finish in top 10 and advance), it would be a shining moment not only for our school and the state of Rhode Island, but for golf in New England as well. How big is this? It would be like our basketball team making it to the Final Four.”

Other stories unfolded as well:

4Penn State, seeded No. 19 in the regional and 72nd in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, led after two rounds en route to finishing second and earning its first trip to the NCAA finals since 1996.

4No. 1-ranked Florida struggled with a final-round 10-over 290 and finished fifth, its worse showing of the year.

There was Wake Forest senior Bill Haas, shooting 3-under-par 207 to capture medalist honors by a stroke over Rhode Island’s Kenneth Fahey, but finding his fifth victory of the season “more bitter than sweet” when he learned the Demon Deacons did not qualify for the NCAA as a team.

4There was North Carolina, only two shots out of the lead with 18 holes to play, closing with a 25-over 305 and seemingly headed for home only to gain the final spot for the nationals when it defeated rival North Carolina State on the first playoff hole.

Now, though, the storyline shifts back to Clemson as the Tigers attempt to repeat history when the NCAA Championship is held June 1-4 at The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va.

Last year, the Tigers became the first team to win their conference (Atlantic Coast), regional (East) and NCAA titles. Clemson will have an opportunity to repeat that feat following its ACC and East regional victories.

“It’s (nationals) going to be fun,” said Clemson coach Larry Penley. “We play all year, but now we will actually be defending our national title for the first time. But what we have to do is go there and just relax and play. We can’t worry about defending. We just have to go out and beat the golf course.”

If that is the case, Clemson could become the first team since Houston in 1984-85 to win back-to-back NCAA titles.

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