SE Louisiana snaps 2-year drought with victory
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Standing just off the 18th green Tuesday at Chenal Country Club's Bear Den Course, Southeastern Louisiana head coach Tim Baldwin breathed a big sigh of relief.
More importantly, he had a huge smile on his face, the kind of smile he had not had in close to two years.
Baldwin and his Lions had just learned their closing round of 16-over-par 304 was good enough to capture the 19th annual UALR/First Tee Collegiate Classic. Southeastern Louisiana finished at 23-over 887 on the demanding 7,361-yard course that will play host in July to the Southern Amateur.
"We've had a bit of a drought, so it's good to get the monkey off our back," Baldwin said. "Hopefully, this will get us some momentum going as we head into the final stretch of the season."
The victory was a memorable one for Baldwin, now in his 24th season at the Southeastern Louisiana helm. It marked his 40th career team title with the Lions.
"It's been a long time coming. I've been going after it for a couple of years now, so it feels really good to finally get it," said Baldwin, whose last victory came in April 2010 at the Southland Conference Championship.
The Bear Den Course actually might have been the big winner in the tournament, as only three sub-70 scores were posted over three rounds, with no individual finishing under par. Only one team broke 12-over 300 the last day.
"Our main focus this week has been to keep the ball in play, and overall we were able to do that," Baldwin said. "Out here, you have to avoid the big numbers. We had a few today, but fortunately we were able to get the job done."
Sam Houston State coach Ronnie Choate, whose team trailed SE Louisiana by five strokes after two rounds, thought his team would finish "sixth or seventh" after a closing 24-over 312.
Instead, the Bearkats managed to hang on to second place with a 900 total, four shots better than Oral Roberts, which had the best round of the day at 10-over 298. Host team Arkansas-Little Rock finished fourth at 904.
"This is a big win for us, especially for our three young players," Baldwin said. "We have three guys who have not won as a team. I believe you have to learn how to win, and these guys were able to do that today."
The only three-round total on the scoreboard that wasn't black (over par) was the green 216 (even par) next to Will Hogan of Missouri State.
Hogan, a senior from Ozark, Mo., opened with a 2-over 74, shot a tournament-best 4-under 68 in the second round, then closed with another 74 to score a one-stroke victory over Stephen F. Austin junior Mitchell McLeroy, who closed with a 73.
Another shot behind was SE Louisiana junior Philipp Westermann, who double-bogeyed the 17th hole and finished with a final-round 76.
Still, Westermann once again led the Lions' charge. Going into the UALR event, the Lions had three top-5 finishes and in each, it had been Westermann leading the way with a top-10 finish, including a victory in his last start, the Carter Plantation Intercollegiate, where the team finished second.
For Hogan, it was his second college win, the first coming last season at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville's tournament.
Starting at the 10th hole, Hogan struggled and was 4 over as he made the turn. But on the front side, he birdied both par 5s, Nos. 5 and 7, and that sealed the win.
"My ballstriking was good all week," Hogan said. "The big thing was, I didn't make many mistakes."
Like Baldwin, Hogan let out a sigh of relief and a big smile when his victory became official.
"I played really well last season," he said. "But so far this season, it's been a bit of a nightmare. I don't think I've even had a top 25 this (spring) semester. It's really been frustrating.
"I just tried to stay patient. I knew I could play better than how I'd been playing. This week I feel I came out and played the way I knew I could. I'm hoping that maybe I'm peaking at the right time."