Vanderbilt dominates at Isleworth to close fall on strong note

Golfweek/Kevin Casey

Vanderbilt dominates at Isleworth to close fall on strong note

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Vanderbilt dominates at Isleworth to close fall on strong note

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WINDERMERE, Fla. – There was no real mystery as to what Vanderbilt hoped to accomplish at the Tavistock Collegiate Invitational.

In fact, it was incredibly straight forward.

“We wanted to play a complete golf tournament this week,” said senior Will Gordon. “And we did that.”

The Commodores dominated the entire way at Isleworth Golf and Country Club, going wire-to-wire and closing out a 20-shot victory (over Auburn and Arizona State) at 31-under 833 on Tuesday against a field that included eight top-25 teams.

Gordon made it a clean sweep of titles as he opened in 64 and closed in 66 for a 16-under total and a four-shot triumph in the individual race. Patrick Martin, a fellow senior, placed third at 9 under while junior John Augenstein finished 7 under for solo fourth. Sophomores Harrison Ott (T-56, 10 over) and Mason Greenberg (T-70, 15 over) rounded out the scores.

The team’s fall season finale performance ensured Vanderbilt, a perennial national title contender, would not go winless before heading into winter break.

“I’m really excited for our guys,” said Scott Limbaugh, Vanderbilt’s head coach. “We’ve got a lot of work to do to ultimately be the team that we think we can be, but this was a good step.”

Even early in the 2018-19 season, there’s been plenty of progress.

The 21st-ranked Commodores began the fall with a disappointing sixth at the Carmel Cup, and a third at the Shoal Creek Invitational wasn’t the most thrilling result either.

The team would have good rounds at times but struggled to piece together three at the same tournament. Limbaugh also had the sense a stale air was forming around his group.

“After our second tournament, I felt like we were just kind of not having fun,” Limbaugh said. “Golf had become more like a job for us.”

So Vanderbilt emphasized enjoying the experience more in subsequent showings. Nothing drastic, but just playing with more passion and freedom and being more aware of attitude.

For Gordon, simple things like getting himself to smile more on course and walking slower to keep his heart rate down did the trick.

The Commodores proceeded to build at the Nike Collegiate Invitational, finishing runner-up against an impressive field. And then they left no doubt at Isleworth.

Ultimately, the slow start was a bit of a clarifier.

“This fall was more about finding what our identity is, so taking a step like that backwards (early) wasn’t necessarily a bad thing,” Martin said. “It was more of a wake-up call for what we need to do moving forward.”

What exactly is that identity?

A dash more enjoyment may have been added in the later fall tournaments, but don’t mistake that for backing off. Vanderbilt has finished each of the last four seasons ranked in the top six, an enviable consistency that could lead a program to complacency.

With that in mind, a focus has been put on keeping an edge. The program has brought back tougher conditioning, offering workouts (especially sprints) with more intensity so nobody backs off.

Vanderbilt has also seized on the motto “Win the Moment” as a calling card to face up to a shot when trepidation enters the mind.

That ferocity has shown in qualifiers. Earlier this season, Gordon played a five-round qualifier in 21 under to win it by at least 10 strokes.

For this week’s event, it was Martin way out in front. He fired a 16-under total in four rounds of qualifying for an eight-shot victory.

Even as Gordon took a two-shot lead to the 16th hole Tuesday, he didn’t step off the gas. Instead of laying up on the drivable par 4, he lasered a 3-wood right near the green and birdied to increase his margin.

“I just kept telling myself to don’t let up until I putted out there on 18,” Gordon said.

The one piece missing from Vanderbilt’s resume in this run of success in recent years is a national title.

The Commodores will go into the winter knowing once again they clearly have the firepower to get the job done. But it’s not about talent heading into the spring.

The most important message: No matter the success, never be satisfied.

“(Limbaugh) has kept telling us, keep enjoying a humble climb,” Ott said.

The journey is well on its way.

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