After two days of trading body blows with Big Ten Conference foe Ohio State, Illinois delivered the knockout punch to the entire field in Wednesday’s final round at the Myrtle Beach Regional of the NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship, hosted by Coastal Carolina University at TPC Myrtle Beach. The five-shot victory earned the Fighting Illini (-25) one of the regional’s five qualifying bids to the NCAA Finals next week in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Ohio State (-20), Wake Forest (-15), California (-14) and UNLV (-8) also punched their ticket to the finals May 24-29 at Blessings Golf Club, and continue their teams’ pursuit of a national championship. Oregon’s Edwin Yi (-14) shot a final-round 66 to earn the region’s individual bid to Fayetteville.
Entering Round 3 with a two-stroke deficit to the Buckeyes, Illinois countered with a fury. Their 16-under par performance Wednesday was simply too much for Ohio State to overcome, even with the Buckeyes’ impressive 9-under showing on the day.
With his final-round 65, the Illini’s Michael Feagles (-15) bested TPC Myrtle Beach’s previous 54-hole tournament record by five shots. His teammates joined the fray with its other three scoring players, each of whom shot under par on the day – Adrien Dumont de Chassart (68), Varun Chopra (69) and Tommy Kuhl (70).
Even with what he characterized as a young team, Illinois Head Coach Mike Small was not the least bit surprised by his team’s final-round performance. “We have a lot of inexperience that has grown considerably this year,” said Small. “They’ve earned my respect the last few weeks at the Big Ten Championships with the way they closed that out, and then today.
“We talked a lot about presence, about how you approach a last round and how you go get things. You look at the positive side of it, without really caring about the outcome as much, and they really grabbed a hold of it and played with that strength today. It was inspiring to watch.”
“We knew that with the wind being down today we were going to have to be aggressive and shoot at some pins,” said Feagles. “As a result it gave us some good, low scores from everyone on the team, which was awesome. This is huge momentum for us going into nationals.”
As Wake Forest maintained its weeklong steady play to secure its bid to Fayetteville, California and UNLV took divergent paths to earn their bids. The Golden Bears entered final-round play squarely on the bubble, as one of six teams within eight strokes of one another vying for the remaining bids. They erased any doubt with a 12-under par round that included 12 birdies among its scoring players in their first nine holes, versus only two bogeys in that span.
“Last night I told them the first two rounds we hadn’t really played our best, but we were still in contention to make it based on their grit and their heart,” said Walter Chun, California’s head coach. “I kept telling them throughout the tournament that if they kept their composure, at some point they were just going to go off. Thankfully for us it happened on that front nine, and they just didn’t look back.”
UNLV started the day in fourth, and ended in fifth after holding off a final charge from Florida State led by Jamie Li (-11), whose lengthy eagle putt on 18 would have put the Seminoles and Runnin’ Rebels in a playoff. But Li’s valiant effort slipped just right of the cup, leaving UNLV as the final team from the Myrtle Beach Regional headed to Fayetteville.
“We stress a lot the importance of one shot,” said UNLV Head Coach Dwaine Knight. “In so many different ways, championships are won or lost by one shot. The guys may get upset and feel they’re out of it, and you’re never really out of it.”