BRADENTON, Fla – The final round of the men’s Division I National Championship hosted by University of South Florida at Concession Golf Club has come to an end. Some coaches will receive a bonus for a national tournament berth, others will be hired to bigger jobs at other schools as a reward for leading a program into the national spotlight. Last year, Alabama’s Jay Seawell received over $40,000 in bonus pay for winning the 2014 national championship. But before the bonus checks and pink slips can be doled out at this year’s tournament, a few final putts needed to fall, some questions answered, and the numerous bloggers and journalists will a few hours to weave some excitement into a championship that promised more adrenaline than it actually generated.
“This has been the most boring round of golf that I have ever seen in my life,” whispered one of the volunteers as she adjusted her headset and clipboard. “I was out here for the women’s tournament, which had some moments, let me tell you…but this is just dull.” She turned and walked away. At that moment, she might have been right, but that was before both Benjamin Taylor and Bobby Gojuangco dug-up too much sand on both of their first bunker attempts, requiring a second attempt from a few feet away.
The match was boring and balanced – ALL SQUARE – with four to play. Bobby drained a long birdie putt on 16, and finally the crowd received some excitement. The galleries began to swell around this match, knowing that the tournament could come down to these two players on the 17th green…Ben Taylor stared down 17’s flag stick, knowing that he needed an eagle, and that his competitor, Bobby Gojuangco, a Junior from San Diego, would have a safe, high percentage birdie opportunity that could spell victory for Bobby. LSU’s senior, Ben Taylor, took dead aim at the pin. He needed some magic to extend the match.
“Before I hit my shot, Coach asked me, are you having fun?” Taylor told the media after his round, “It was hard to say no because it was the perfect club, perfect yardage, and we knew it was going to be a good shot. It was destiny. We worked so hard all year,”
His shot, on a laser-like line, landed a few paces on the front of the green, bouncing forward and rolling to 8ft, setting up an eagle putt, which Ben drained to extend the match to the 18th hole. And at that moment, everyone knew that the Tigers had a momentum that even divine intervention could not take away, and the players from other parts of the golf course began to converge on the 18th green to celebrate the first NCAA Division I National Championship for LSU in over 60 years.
It would be LSU’s 5th men’s golf national championship, but the 60 year drought did not end by happenstance. The Tiger golf program re-oriented itself 10 years ago when Chuck Winstead took over a program without, as coach Winstead explains, “a plan or strategy on how to improve.” At the time, the Tigers were ranked somewhere around 80th in the country, and to become the national champion in just ten years, ending a strange and uncharacteristic drought, is an accomplishment credited to numerous factors. As the head coach emphasizes, the burden of success falls on the shoulders of these players, whose hard work and dedication took the team all-the-way. “It was these guys. They earned it. They worked for it.” The LSU coach said. Both Benjamin Taylor and assistant coach Garrett Runion transferred from Nova-Southeastern after winning a Division II National Championship, which no combination of coach and player have ever done together…In the end, according to coach Winstead, 60 years from now people will remember the 2015 LSU National Champions as a group that just wanted to improve. “That’s really our mainstay. That’s where we go. From where we begin to where we end, we just always want to improve,” he said. If you are “constantly trying to chip away at the small things and continue to improve, then whatever the results may be, you can live with it.”