There may not be anymore pressure in any sport than when you or your team is favored to win.
The Clemson Tigers were the highest ranked team and Jacob Bridgeman was the highest ranked golfer at the Cleveland Golf Palmetto Intercollegiate at the venerable old Palmetto Club.
The Tigers and Bridgeman both handled the pressure and each recorded their second straight win at the tournament in Aiken.
Clemson jumped out to an early lead the first day when teams played 36 holes.
The Tigers shot their lowest round of the year when they posted a 12-under par 268 in the first round and followed it up with a 272 to finish the first day at 20-under par.
UNC-Wilmington shot a second round 271 to trail the Tigers by 4-shots. Furman was in third and the host team from USC Aiken was fourth.
Bridgeman did not start his first round looking like the defending champion. After starting with a birdie Bridgeman bogeyed two of his next four holes.
He made the turn at 1-over par, but went “nuts” on the back nine.
Bridgeman made 5-birdies in a row and 7 in his last 8 holes. His back nine score of 29 tied the record set by his teammate William Nottingham during his freshman year.
“I made a lot of putts and that put me ahead,” said Bridgeman. “It could have been 10 in a row. I made 6 or 7 15 footers. Hole after hole I was making 10 to 15 foot birdies. It was kind of nuts,” he said.
Nottingham finished his first round matching Bridgeman’s 64. He made 6-birdies on his final nine holes to shoot 30.
Bridgeman and Nottingham became the first Clemson. teammates to shoot scores of 64 in the same round.
The two 64s gave Clemson the first round lead.
While the two Tigers were posting impressive opening round scores, Furman’s Keller Harper was not far behind.
The two-time SoCon Player of the Year shot a 5-under 65 in his second round to trail Bridgeman by 2-shots going into the final 18 holes.
In the final round, the Tigers were not threatened by the other contenders, but the battle for medalist honors went down to the last hole.
Using a shotgun format, Harper started on the second hole, while Bridgeman began his final round on the first hole.
Harper, who won his third college tournament earlier in the season, played error free golf through his first 17 holes.
Bridgeman got to 11-under par by the 11th hole, but a double bogey on number 12 allowed Harper to catch the leader.
Again Bridgeman answered the challenge with a birdie on his next hole to take a 1-shot lead.
Harper birdie the 17th hole to once again be even with the defending champion.
Because of the shotgun start Harper had 2-holes to play while Bridgeman only had his final hole remaining.
Harper parred 18 and would finish his round on then first hole. It turned out to be his only bogey of the day.
“I had a bad lie next to a trap. I knew Jacob was capable of birdieing 18 and I thought I needed a birdie to stay even,” said Harper.
His pitch found the trap forcing him to scramble and settle for a bogey.
“If I had that shot earlier in the round I would have played it differently, but I just knew I needed a birdie,” he said.
Bridgeman’s tee shot on 18 came close to the green. His length off the tee on the par-4 306 yard hole gave him a birdie opportunity.
“I’ve always been an agressive player and I’m never going to back down from an agressive shot.I didn’t know how I stood until 17. My coach told me I was even with Keller. The way he was playing I thought I would need a birdie to win,” he said.
Both golfers aggresive play made for an exciting finish. Bridgeman converted his birdie to finish at 11-under par while Harper’s bogey left him in second place at 9-under par.
“I’m disappointed, but I played well and I can take that with me going forward,” he said.
Harper’s runner-up finish goes with a win and a top-15 in his previous two events this year.
Bridgeman entered the event as the 2nd ranked player in the country and earned his second win of the year to go along with a top-10.
“I’m so proud of the way Jacob played,” said Penley. “It is always hard to defend and he seized the challenge and did a heck of a job,” said the Clemson coach.
The win was Bridgeman’s third. He became the first Tiger to be a repeat winner in an event since Charles Warren won back to back ACC titles in 1997 and 1998.
“I’m to the point now in tournaments I’m going out trying to win them. My confidence is really high and I can win any week,” he said.
The Tigers finished 7 shots ahed of UNC Wilmington as Penley coached the Tigers to their 80th team title under his direction.
The victory also was the tenth in the event at the Palmetto Club. One of the oldest and most storied venues in the country.
“This place is special. They don’t make em like this anymore. If you let your guard down for a second your going to be in trouble. We didn’t make a double in the first two rounds and today we made six. You just got to hang in there and keep pushing,” said the Clemson coach.
The win by the 8th ranked Clemson team will solidify their place in the top-10 team ranking and Bridgeman’s win certainly will not cost him his place as the second ranked player in the country.
Clemson next tees it up in Palm City, Florida at the Valspar Championship next week.
Complete tournament scores are available at http://results.golfstat.com/public/leaderboards/gsnav.cfm?pg=team&tid=21039
Hear from Clemson coach Larry Penley and Palmetto Intercollegiate winner Jacob Bridgeman.
Sorry for the poor picture quality, but I thought you would like to hear from the two. Stan