Commentary: Augusta State ends reign on top
STILLWATER, Okla. – As Augusta State head coach Josh Gregory penned his victory speech on the back of a pin sheet, senior Carter Newman yelled, “Coach, it’s over. You don’t have to do yardages anymore.”
They joked that Gregory was still at work, even after the season had ended in a second consecutive NCAA Championship for the Jaguars. That’s how dedicated Gregory is to his craft. He apologizes to his wife, Ashley, that he’s often communicating with his charges until he goes to sleep, and as soon as he wakes up.
That passion attracted players from across the globe and across the road to Augusta State. Many of them were overlooked and underrated, unlike the golf course that makes their city famous.
The players combined to form a golf team that will go down as one of the greatest of all-time, securing that title with a 3-2 victory over Georgia in Sunday’s final match of the NCAA Championship. Augusta State is the first golf team since Houston in 1984-85 to win consecutive national championships.
“Match play rewards the team that plays best under pressure,” Augusta State senior Mitchell Krywulycz said. “It doesn’t necessarily reward the best team, but every match is under the pump, all the time, every hole.”
The Jaguars proved they thrive in such situations, beating three of the nation’s premier programs – Georgia Tech, Oklahoma State and Georgia – in match play at Karsten Creek. Augusta State competes at Division II in every sport except golf. It has more women’s sports than men’s. This story would be fodder for documentaries and melodramatic movies if it had taken place in another sport.
“It doesn’t matter how big your budget is, how many private planes you have, how many scholarships you have,” Gregory said. “If you can find a way to get players that believe, that’s all that counts.”
The Jaguars couldn’t have asked for a better way to part ways. All five players at Karsten Creek, as well as Gregory, were wearing a Jaguars uniform for the final time.
Patrick Reed, who clinched the NCAA Championship with a 2-and-1 victory over Georgia’s Harris English, left Karsten Creek on Sunday en route to Memphis, Tenn., where he will make his professional debut at this week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic. Henrik Norlander will leave Augusta on Tuesday to play the Palmer Cup – college golf’s version of the Ryder Cup – then begin his professional career in Europe. Gregory is headed to Dallas, where he will become the head coach of his alma mater, SMU.
Gregory remained composed for a 90-second television interview after his team’s 3-2 victory over the Bulldogs. Once the cameras switched off, he covered his face with his hands and sobbed so hard that words could not escape.
“I woke up this morning and looked at my wife and said, ‘This is the last day for all of us,’ ” Gregory said. “I thought about these five guys and what they’ve done over the past two years, and all I could think about is, this is how we want to go out.”
Gregory is as much a friend as a coach to his players. “We have a son, but we also have 11 other boys,” Ashley Gregory said.
Josh Gregory was a 27-year-old assistant coach at North Carolina State when he was named Augusta State’s head coach in 2002.
Reed, a first-team All-American this season, transferred to Augusta State in 2009 after one year at Georgia; his family now lives in Augusta. Sweden’s Norlander and Australia’s Krywulycz both were headed for other schools. Norlander came to Augusta State, where his friend, Kalle Edberg, played, after some high-school credits didn’t transfer to Minnesota. Krywulycz traveled to the United States to visit Georgia Southern, the alma mater of countryman Aron Price; Krywulycz’s mother, Mandy, reasoned that if they were going to travel across the globe, they may as well visit nearby Augusta State. “She’s a very smart woman,” Mitchell said.
Carter Newman was an unrecruited kid from nearby Evans, Ga., who wanted to venture away from his hometown, but was drawn by Gregory’s passion. Newman improved greatly in his time at Augusta State, winning last year’s Rice Planters, a top regional event in the Southeast, and making match play in last year’s U.S. Amateur. He went 3-0 in match play this week, including a 7-and-5 victory over Georgia’s T.J. Mitchell.
Newman also won the deciding point in Augusta State’s semifinal against Oklahoma State, a rematch of Augusta State’s upset victory in the final of last year’s NCAA Championship. A partisan gallery of more than 1,000 fans gathered over the match’s final holes, but Newman sank putts of 30, 4 and 5 feet over the final three holes to defeat Sean Einhaus in 19 holes and give his team the chance to defend its championship.
“It’s special to win two national championships, being from Augusta,” Newman said. “You can’t beat that.”
No player was more impressive this week than Reed, though. He finished third in stroke play and was the only Jaguar other than Newman to go undefeated in match play. He beat U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein, 8 and 7, in the semifinals, then clinched Augusta State’s title with his 2-and-1 victory over Harris English, another candidate for this year’s Walker Cup team.
“We’re all glad to win, but ... we’re sad it’s over because that means all of us are going in different directions,” Reed said.
At least they were together long enough to make some history.