Two of the biggest surprises in the six NCAA Regionals played earlier this week involved two f the four Georgia colleges competing across the country.
Georgia Tech, the No. 1 seed in its Regional in Raleigh, N.C., failed to advance to nationals. Augusta, one of the lowest ranked teams in the Regionals and the 12th seed of 14 in Raleigh, qualified for the NCAAs for the first time since the second of the Jaguars’ back-to-back national titles in 2011.
Georgia and Kennesaw State, the two other teams from the state to compete at Regionals, both finished near the bottom in Texas and California respectively.
Augusta may have been the biggest surprise among the 30 teams to advance to nationals, which begin May 25 in Stillwater, Ok. The Jaguars were ranked 111th in the country by Golfstat, and only made it into the field by their victory in the MEAC Championship.
The Jaguars compete at the Division II level in sports other than golf, and are affiliated with the MEAC, which consists of predominantly minority colleges that have never been competitive in golf at the Division I level. Competing in the MEAC gives Augusta a virtual bye into Regionals, with the Jaguars winning their conference tournament at Crosswinds in Savannah by 33 shots.
Led by Masters champion Patrick Reed and Henrik Norlander, a regular on the PGA and Web.com Tours since turning pro, the Jaguars won consecutive NCAA titles in 2010 and ’11. But Reed bolted for the pros with one year of eligibility remaining and head coach Josh Gregory left Augusta immediately after the championship match to take over as head coach at his alma mater SMU, where his actions resulted in SMU being placed on probation and cost Gregory his job.
The Jaguars have not been a serious factor at the national level since 2011 and did not play especially well in either the fall of 2017 or spring of 2018. Apart from two wins at Crosswinds against opponents from the MEAC, the best finish for Augusta in the regular season was a tie for sixth. In the event the jaguars host annually at Forest Hills GC, they finished 12th in a 15-team field.
Augusta shot 6-under 278 and was fifth after the first round, and remained within range of fifth place after matching par of 284 the next day. With a group of teams competing for four spots at nationals behind runaway winner Texas, the Jaguars responded with an outstanding round of 270 to place fourth at 20-under 832. Duke was second at 830, with tournament host North Carolina State third at 831. Arizona State finished fifth at 834, one shot ahead of top seed Georgia Tech.
Augusta got outstanding efforts from its entire squad during at Regionals. Senior Broc Everett enjoyed the best tournament of his career, posting scores of 67-66-66 to finish second at 14-under 199, matching the low 54-hole score in school history.
Everett was one of three Jaguars to shoot in the 60s the final day. Sophomore Olof Gunnarsson, whose scores the first two days did not count, shot a career best 66 to match Everett for the team’s low round, and freshman Laken Hinton equaled his best round of the season with a 68 after earlier scores of 70 and 74.
Gustav Andersson, one of Augusta’s three freshman starters, shot 70 in the third round after posting scores of 70 and 73 the first two days, as all four counting Augusta scores the final day were under par.
Alex Shead of Appling, the team’s No. 2 player behind Everett, matched par of 71 all three days, but his final round total was not needed. Laken tied for 32nd overall at 212, with Shead and Gunnarsson T40 at 213.
Georgia Tech was well inside the top five after scores of 274 and 279 the first two rounds, but the Yellow Jackets slipped a bit the final day with a 282 total, while four of the teams that were battling for spots in the top five all shot under 280. Tech was tied for the fifth spot with its last player on the 18th hole in the final round, but a closing bogey knocked the team out of a possible playoff.
Sophomores Tyler Strafaci and Andy Ogletree led Tech in the tournament, tying for 13th and 16th individually. Strafaci shot 68-69-71 for a 5-under 208 total, while Ogletree was right behind at 209 with scores of 70-69-70. Freshman Noah Norton was T26 at 211 with scores of 70-69-72, but his final round included a pair of double bogeys. Senior Chris Petefish also had a 211 total, shooting 68 in the first round and 69 the final day around a non-counting 74.
Sophomore Luke Schniederjans of Powder Springs was one of three Yellow Jackets to shoot 68 in the opening round, and followed with back-to-back 72s to tie for 32nd at 212. Schniederjans was 1-under par after 13 holes in the final round, but bogeyed two of his last five holes.
Georgia Tech won the ACC Championship several weeks earlier on the same course with the same 835 total.
Two Atlanta area golfers will be playing in the NCAA Championship after helping their teams to top-5 finishes in Raleigh. Duke placed second, with Alpharetta’s Chandler Eaton tying for 21st individually with scores of 69-70-71—210. Host NC State was third, led by Duluth’s Benjamin Shipp, who placed third individually with scores of 67-64-70—201.
Dunwoody’s Marcus Byrd almost led his team to a top-5 finish, with Middle Tennessee placing seventh, just two shots behind Arizona State in fifth. Byrd tied for fifth at 204 with scores of 70-67-67, but lost a playoff to advance to the NCAA Championship as an individual.
Georgia competed in a Regional hosted by Texas A&M in College Station and closed out a disappointing season by placing 11th in a 13-team field. Georgia finished with a 33-over 897 total, 23 shots behind fifth place Kentucky.
Sophomore Spencer Ralston of Gainesville played respectably, tying for 17th with scores of 73-72-71 for an even par 216 total. But those were the low three scores for the team in the tournament, as no other Georgia golfer shot lower than 74 or finished inside the top 50. The Bulldogs had to count an 80 the first day and three scores of 76 or higher in the second round.
Senior Zach Healy of Peachtree Corners closed out his college career with a 73 the final day, but that was the lowest score shot by a Bulldog other than Ralston. Freshman Davis Thompson of St. Simons had counting scores of 75-76-74, and Atlanta junior Jack Larkin shot 76-74 the last two days.
Kennesaw State placed 12th out of 13 teams in the Pacific Regional in Stockton, Calif. The Owls shot 292-290-296 for an 878 total, 26 strokes out of fifth place.
Sophomore Connor Coffee of Peachtree City led Kennesaw with scores of 71-74-72—217, tying for 37th. Jake Fendt, a junior from Cumming and the team’s No. 1 player, shot 71 in the second round, but struggled the other two days. Wyatt Larkin of Morganton contributed three counting scores including a second round 72, and freshman Brady Keran of Canton also had three counting scores including a 73 the second day.
The only two state qualifiers for the Women’s NCAA Regionals were Georgia and Kennesaw State, with both teams competing in the Tallahassee Regional.
Georgia placed eighth in the 18-team field, seven shots behind the sixth place team, with the top six advancing to nationals. The Lady Bulldogs shot 287-292-287 for a 2-over 866 total.
Juniors Jillian Hollis and Roswell’s Rinko Mitsunaga led Georgia, with Hollis tying for ninth at 7-under 209 and Mitsunaga placing 13th at 211. Both players had a pair of rounds in the 60s, with Hollis opening with back-to-back 68s and Mitsunaga shooting a 69 the first day and closing with a 68.
Senior Isabelle Skinner of Cumming closed out her career at Georgia with scores of 76-76-73-225.
Kennesaw finished in 11th place with an 885 total, led by Roanne Tomlinson, who tied for 30th at 217. Junior Madison Caldwell of Dawsonville was next at 220 with a 70 in the second round, when Kennesaw posted its low team score of 293.