FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Thirty teams came to Blessings Golf Club, and after 54 holes only 15 teams – and nine individuals – remain.
Defending champion Oklahoma State has dominated the first three days of play at the 2019 NCAA Div. I Men’s Golf Championship, but the Cowboys and their 25-shot lead aren’t the big story of note.
Neither three-time champion Texas and their trio of freshman phenoms nor 2017 national champion Oklahoma and their quest to dethrone their in-state rivals from Stillwater have grabbed top billing. Same for Western Kentucky’s Billy Tom Sargent, whose inspirational story continues into the final stroke play round.
The story of the tournament is Southern Methodist.
The Mustangs came here as the second-lowest ranked team in the field before playing their way into the top 15. They currently sit in ninth.
“The aura about the guys has changed,” said SMU head coach Jason Enloe. “Everybody was kind of glum after the incident at Stanford, but I think we’ve finally got way past that.”
The incident Enloe referred to would have been tough for any team to come back from, let alone a lineup consisting of two freshman, two sophomores, one junior and no seniors.
Ironically, sophomore Noah Goodwin aggravated his right shoulder while sleeping just before Stanford’s The Goodwin in late March. Goodwin was forced to withdraw, leaving the team to compete with four players. Shortly after the final round, the team noticed that freshman Ben Wong’s score was incorrect. He signed for 70 when he shot 71.
The Mustangs were then unable to field a full team of scores and were forced to take a loss to the entire field.
“Stanford was tough,” said sophomore Mac Meissner with a half chuckle. “The way Ben handled that situation, he learned from it and felt horrible. We felt more bad for him than for our team. I think that just shows how close we are and having that close-knit team relationship has been huge for us.”
“This groups real close knit,” Enloe said. “They’re all just great kids and very close as teammates, friends and brothers. It’s a cool group to be able to coach.”
Off the course, Enloe has been dealing with some struggles of his own after losing his wife, Katie, last summer to leukemia. After his team finished fourth at the Athens’ regional, Enloe said his team has “made the journey bearable.”
“Our toughness has come through by knowing what we’ve all been through as a group with the loss of Katie,” Enloe said Sunday after his team’s 4-over 292 to solidify their spot in Monday’s final stroke-play round. “I think they’ve been playing with a heavy heart and they’ve been tested, emotionally and mentally.”
Enloe’s message to the team: Play for each other.
“That’s kind of what I told them the final day of regionals,” said Enloe. “Play for each other and leave everything out on the course, stay as brothers and play for the guy next to you. You won’t fail no matter what.”
Meissner added how the team’s mindset Monday, when the field will be cut to eight teams, will be to not press and let other teams fail. He loosely compared this year’s NCAA Championship at Blessings to a U.S. Open in the sense that it’s a brutal course where you can’t miss “or else it’s a bogey or double at least.”
“Whoever can stick around the longest wins,” said Meissner.
With a group as close as this, don’t be surprised if the Mustang family hangs around for another round or two.
The final round of stroke play starts at noon ET on Monday.
Teams to make 54-hole cut
1. Oklahoma State, -12
T2. Texas, +13
T2. Stanford, +13
4. Oklahoma, +16
5. Wake Forest, +17
6. Vanderbilt, +18
7. Texas A&M, +20
8. Clemson, +28
9. SMU, +29
10. TCU, +30
11. Ohio State, +31
12. Pepperdine, +32
13. Auburn, +34
14. California, +35
15. USC, +36
Steven Fisk, Georgia Southern, -4
Chun An Yu, Arizona State, -3
Gabe Lench, Liberty, +1
Kyler Dunkle, Utah, +1
Chandler Eaton, Duke, +2
Billy Tom Sargent, Western Kentucky, +3
Ryan Burnett, North Carolina, +4
Tripp Kinney, Iowa State, +4
Trent Phillips, Georgia, +5 (advanced via playoff with Will Miles, South Carolina; Justin Kim, UNLV).