ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – His teammates call him “Johnny Golf.” They might need to call him “Johnny Clutch.”
Vanderbilt freshman John Augenstein came up big again in extra holes to help Vanderbilt to its first SEC men’s golf title. A day after he beat Florida’s Andy Zhang with a birdie putt on the 20th hole to send the Commodores to the final match against Texas A&M, Augenstein prevailed over the Aggies’ Andrew Paysse in 23 holes to earn the deciding point in a 3-2 Vanderbilt victory at Sea Island Golf Club’s Seaside Course.
“It gives me chills just to hear that (‘first SEC title’),” Vanderbilt head coach Scott Limbaugh said. “… We were pushed to the limits in every single match – beat Ole Miss on the 18th hole, Florida on the 20th hole and then that one today on the 23rd hole. It was big, it really was. And it couldn’t have been more exciting being the first year for the SEC (using) match play.”
Texas A&M got victories from its top two players: Cameron Champ beat Will Gordon, 2 and 1, and Chandler Phillips got the best of Vanderbilt’s senior leader Matthias Schwab, 1 up. Vanderbilt’s Patrick Martin and Theo Humphrey ended their matches on hole Nos. 13 and 16, respectively.
That set the table for Augenstein. The freshman birdied the first playoff hole, the par-4 10th, to halve with Paysse before the two halved the next three playoff holes. Then Augenstein earned a hard-fought par on No. 14 – after his drive hit a tree and he took a drop from the cart path, Augenstein hit his approach over some trees and to 12 feet – to cap a historic week for the Vanderbilt program, which also finished first in the 54-hole stroke-play portion this week at Sea Island.
“Even though he’s a freshman, he’s made of the kind of stuff that you want in the guy in that situation,” Limbaugh said. “I don’t think there was a single one of his teammates or coaches that didn’t think he could handle the moment. The good thing about John is that he is all about our team. … Man, that rascal, he competes, and I’m glad he’s on our side.”
Competing in the first SEC Championship, in 1965, Vanderbilt finished last. The Commodores also placed at the bottom of the leaderboard in each of the next seven editions. Under Limbaugh, who arrived for the 2012-13 season, the Vanderbilt program has turned into one of the best in the entire country.
“When I think about this being the first one in history, that’s not really a burden I carried with me,” Limbaugh said. “I thought when I took the job that we could do these kind of things or else I wouldn’t have come here. We have a special place here and a special group of young men.
“But this isn’t just about this year’s team. There’s a lot guys before this group that helped build what we’re still building. There’s a lot of guys that get to enjoy this. This is for everybody.”
Players like Hunter Stewart, an All-American who graduated in 2015, who drove down from his home in South Carolina to watch his former team in action. Limbaugh also got congratulation texts and calls from former Vanderbilt players Brandt Snedeker and Luke List, as well as former players Limbaugh coached while an assistant at Alabama, Justin Thomas, Cory Whitsett and Tom Lovelady. Limbaugh’s coaching peers in Nashville also sent kind words, including Commodores baseball coach Tim Corbin and basketball coach Bryce Drew.
“It’s been truly unreal the support we’ve got,” Limbaugh said. “My family’s the coolest for me, because they were there to share it with me. … I’ve heard from just about everybody, just a lot of people cheering for us and really excited about what we’re doing.”
The Commodores are ranked No. 2 by Golfweek, and now they have their first conference crown. But the season isn’t over. The NCAA regionals, and potentially the NCAA Championship, still awaits.
“I want them to enjoy it because they earned it,” Limbaugh said, “but we can’t view it as ‘we’re finished.’ The bigger stuff is still out there.”