Jacksonville’s Michael Sakane was one stroke shy of matching the course record at Caledonia Golf & Fish Club on Tuesday, but he did just enough to help his team win the men’s title at the 8th Golfweek Program Challenge at Pawleys Island, South Carolina.
Sakane shot a final-round 66 on Tuesday to follow rounds of 64 and 66 respectively and lift the men’s golf team to the top of the leaderboard with the team score 12-under 828, three strokes ahead of runner-up Jacksonville State.
The 21-year-old from Setegaya, Japan said thanks to a new TrackMan the Jacksonville golf team secured this summer, Sakane was able to improve his wedge shots just in time for the first event of this season.
“I didn’t have good wedges inside 100 yards. … That was my weakness and I had the environment to work on it,” Sakane said. “And then my approach shot was really good (at Caledonia).”
A few coaches of the men’s teams said this week they believed the men playing Caledonia instead of the course at True Blue Golf Club as they have the past seven Golfweek events would be a challenge, but Sakane said the shorter holes at Caledonia didn’t hinder his game.
“Off the tee, no, I didn’t struggle at all,” he said. “That was not a problem, I haven’t looked up my score yet today but (on Monday) I hit 84 percent of fairways in regulation, so I don’t think I had any problem.”
Sakane finished the week 14-under 196 and was one of only four players to shoot rounds in the 60s each day.
Jacksonville’s former coach and current director of golf Mike Blackburn noted after Tuesday’s round the rest of Jacksonville’s team struggled, but Sakane’s push helped the team leap up the leaderboard in the final round.
Sakane’s four teammates competing in the team event averaged 19 strokes behind him at the end of the tournament.
“(Sakane) carried us this week,” Blackburn said. “He had his A-game and he stepped forward. He had a great performance and it looks like he may come up one (shot) short (of the course record) but he really played well. We’re proud of him.”
Current Jacksonville coach Jamey Salmon, who was hired in July, said he was proud of his team in his coaching debut as they withstood practice impediments and schedule changes from Hurricane Dorian as they prepared for their first event of the season.
“I think it’s a great start for us obviously,” Salmon said. “The narrative changes a little bit this week with the guys. It was fantastic to see them grind things out as they went down. We had one guy obviously play really well this week. The rest of the guys obviously didn’t have the best games this week, they did a good job toughing it out when things weren’t going well.”
High Point (North Carolina) won the women’s title after the team shot 2-under 286 in the final round to finish 8-over 872, four strokes ahead of Marshall. Sophomore Sarah Kahn’s consistency was a large part of the Panthers’ victory as she shot 70-70-71 over the event’s three rounds.
The 8-over, 54-hole total is new school record, besting the previous mark by 11 strokes.
Kahn, who said the wide fairways at True Blue helped her put the ball in the right place over the past two days, credited her steady scores to her putting. Kahn said she felt this team win will motivate her team achieve larger goals as the season progresses.
“I think it gives us a really good boost,” Kahn said. “Definitely a win to start is really helpful and our goal this season is to break the top 100 for ranking so I guess we’re really excited and really happy to be all together.”
Florida Atlantic, which held a one-stroke lead among women’s teams after Monday’s 36 holes in its first appearance in the Golfweek Program Challenge, tumbled to finish sixth after going 10-over 298 on Tuesday. The Owls finished 19-over 883 total.
Along with the men’s team that finished third at 7-under 833, women’s coach Aimee Neff said the promise their young teams showed in Pawleys Island provided optimism for the upcoming season.
“I think both our programs are going in the right direction,” Neff said. “Men’s coach Ryan) Jamison and I are really excited about our teams I think we have a lot of youth and hopefully this is just the start of what we can continue to do on the course. I think we can compete and hopefully be in position to win a tournament this season.”
North Carolina Wilmington’s Segundo Oliva Pinto shot a 65 and a 66 respectively in Monday’s first two rounds to put himself 12 shots ahead of his nearest competitor for the men’s individual title, but he didn’t stop there.
The sophomore from Cordoba, Argentina, broke the Caledonia course record 63 on Tuesday by two strokes, shooting a final-round, 9-under 61.
Over the past week, Pinto said he mostly prepared mentally for the Golfweek event by taking a break from his training regimen. He didn’t focus on what he wasn’t doing, but relaxed instead.
Clearly, it worked.
He went 54 holes without a bogey, something he’s never done in competition before.
“I think I had a very good week,” Pinto said. “I wasn’t feeling good a few weeks ago but I knew I had it. I just had to have it click to just make sure everything got going. I did some hard work this past week so I kind of got into a good spot mentally I was able to have my best tournament ever.”
Pinto said if he gains anything from his record-setting round, he hopes it makes a difference in qualifying for the Latin American Amateur Championship which closes its field in the next few days.
North Carolina Wilmington also had the top female finisher in Phu Khine who went 5-under 67 in the final round to finish the tournament 7-under 209. Phu, a sophomore from Yangon, Myanmar, shot 71s in the first two rounds, putting her in position to earn the top women’s honor.
The UNCW women finished seventh out of 15 women’s teams at 22-over 886.