By CHARLIE GRIGSBY – CENTO WRITER
10th out of 20. 20th of 30. 18th of 18. These are all regular season finishes of the Centre Men’s Golf team. For a program accustomed to weekend trophies and national rankings, it would be an understatement to call this season a disappointment. Heading into the SAA Tournament, the team had only one top-three tournament finish, and of their ten weekends played, only three saw Centre in the top eight scores. Considering the program’s recent success and current crop of talent, it’s not surprising that the players had higher expectations for their fall and spring seasons.
“We didn’t perform in the biggest tournaments we were in,” explained Junior Wilson Trent. “It was a mediocre [regular] season at best.”
The Colonels found themselves in an odd position. For the first time in the careers of the upperclassmen, Centre was not one of the favorites to win the conference tournament.
Oglethorpe, Berry, and Rhodes – all top-25 teams in the nation – were expected to take the weekend before receiving their bids to NCAA Championship. Regardless of how Centre did in the SAA Championship, their season was over after the final round on Sunday. All the Colonels could play for was a tournament in which they were underdogs.
“No one thought we would come close to winning conference,” Trent said.
“The team didn’t think we couldn’t do it,” Trent said. “We had nothing to lose. We had to prove how good we were compared to those teams going to Nationals.”
On the first day, something weird happened. Centre posted a 290- a strong score- and the rest of the conference slipped. Oglethorpe, who would normally post scores from 285-290, shot a 297. Rhodes followed with a four-man score of 299, and Berry with a 304. Suddenly, Centre was leading the #2 team in the country by seven shots, the #20 team by nine, and the #16 team by 14.
“It was kind of shocking, but we didn’t worry about what other teams were doing. We knew what [the other teams] were capable of. We knew they would come back strong and post a great number the second day,” Trent said.
Except they didn’t. After the second day, Oglethorpe and Rhodes were tied at 590, Berry at 595. With three highly touted teams chasing, the Colonels tallied another 290. Junior Grant Blevins tied first-year teammate Carson Riley’s first round score with a 68, the low score of the tournament. With lone senior Tyler O’Daniel, the group of three upperclassmen and three first-years held a ten stroke lead heading into the third and final round. The only team who didn’t notice was their own.
“As soon as we got back to the hotel, none of us talked about golf. Golf wasn’t the focus off the course because nothing could’ve been done until the next day.”
In the final round, the Colonels found themselves playing under pressure. No longer were they the team with nothing to lose; the struggles of the regular season didn’t matter anymore. The field was now chasing them, the clubhouse leaders, and regardless of what had happened the weekends before, they were the favorites with something to play for: pride and a trophy.
With three nationally ranked teams behind them, a conference championship in the balance, and a season’s worth of redemption at stake, a senior, two juniors, and three first-years calmly struck a 291. They finished eight shots ahead of second-place Rhodes; Blevins finished as individual tournament champion and was joined on the All-Conference team by Riley and O’Daniel. With a regular season that saw very little go right, Centre enjoyed an SAA Championship where they could do no wrong.
“We pulled through. We had clutch holes, and we made it so [the field] had to beat us. We weren’t coming to them,” Trent said.
Although Centre’s season is now over, this victory will carry significant weight into the off-season. Talent-wise, the golf team is only losing O’Daniel, but Head Coach Tom Campbell is leaving to coach women’s basketball at Sewanee.
Director of Golf Bruce Brown will replace Campbell as Head Coach, so the transition will be a smooth one for the program. Still, next season will carry some uncertainty. The players will have to adapt to a new coaching style, the issues from the regular season will have to be addressed, and a consistent travel team will need to be found.
But despite the change that is coming to the program, the players can rely on the fact that they were consistent when it mattered most.
And that regardless of the struggles they might have during a season, they will always compete among the best programs in the nation.