Fayetteville Regional: Illinois wins first region title
Team winner: Illinois (1-under 863)
Individual winner: Mario Clemens, SMU (3-under 213)
Also moving on: 2. Arkansas (866), 3. Texas (880), 4. Oklahoma State (882), 5. Kent State (892)
• • •
• • •
'This is pretty cool'
6 and 1. Those were the key numbers for Illinois when all the dust had settled at Blessings Golf Club at the Fayetteville (Ark.) Regional.
Not only did the Fighting Illini earn their sixth consecutive trip to the NCAA finals, they did so by winning the program’s first regional championship. With a closing round of 1-over 289, Illinois, coming off its fifth consecutive Big Ten Championship, finished at 1-under 863 to overtake host Arkansas. The Razorbacks led by one going into the final round, but shot 5-over 293 Saturday and finished at 2-over 866.
“This is pretty cool,” said Illinois coach Mike Small shortly after the win. “It shows these guys are really buying into what we are trying to do at Illinois. This is a young team, but they showed a lot of maturity this week and when faced with adversity, (they) handled it well. This was a total team effort and they came in here and took care of business.”
Sophomore Brian Campbell overcame an opening-round 77 to finish at 2-under 214, tying for second with freshman teammate Thomas Detry. Freshman Charlie Danielson tied for fifth at even-par 216, and junior Thomas Pieters, the reigning NCAA individual champion, tied for 10th at 219.
“To come in here with this quality field and win is very rewarding,” Small said. “This is another positive step in our program and hopefully we’ll keep progressing.”
For Arkansas and coach Brad McMakin, it was a bittersweet ending.
“There’s no doubt we really wanted to win, especially playing at home like this and having all these people come out and support us,” McMakin said. “Unfortunately, we came up a couple of shots short.
“Overall our guys played well all week on a very difficult golf course. But the good news is we still get to go to Atlanta and play for a national championship.”
Arkansas last advanced to the NCAA finals in 2011. In 2009, the first year in which the event included match play, the Razorbacks finished runner-up to Texas A&M.
• • •
Cowboys back in finals saddle
After its streak of 65 consecutive NCAA finals appearances came to an end last season, Oklahoma State is returning to college golf’s big dance. The Cowboys punched their ticket with a fourth-place finish.
“It (qualifying) does feel very good,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike McGraw, "and I’m proud of the way the guys played and hung in there all week. Hopefully, though, the guys don’t see this as the finish line, but as part of the race. We want to compete for a national championship, and when we get to Atlanta we’ll be dead even with 29 other teams.”
• • •
No flash in the pan
Some may be surprised to see Kent State qualify for the NCAA finals, but they shouldn’t be. The Golden Flashes, the Mid-American Conference champions, will be making their fourth consecutive appearance – and fifth in the past six years – at the NCAA Championship.
“It’s been a pretty stressful week, especially out there today,” said veteran Kent State coach Herb Page. “We made double bogeys, triple bogeys, but they never folded their tent. Without a doubt, this group of young men is the toughest I’ve ever coached, mentally tough.
“This was not our best week, but the end result is great for our program and great for these young men."
Only four teams have finished in the top 20 (stroke play) at the NCAA finals in the past three years: UCLA, USC, Texas A&M and Kent State, which was fifth last season.
• • •
Texas will be on hand at the Capital City Club's Crabapple Course just outside of Atlanta to defend its NCAA title won last year at Riviera Country Club near Los Angeles. The Longhorns struggled to a final-round 297, but their third-place finish sends them to their seventh consecutive NCAA finals. . . . SMU senior Mario Clemens birdied his final hole (No. 9) for a closing 73 and 3-under 213 total to win the individual title by a shot. It sends the transfer from UCLA to the national championship as the low individual who is not a member of a qualifying team. . . . Among the faces in the crowd the last few days at Blessings Golf Club was legendary former Arkansas football coach and athletic director Frank Broyles, an avid golfer who said he wanted to show his support for the host Razorbacks.