When Larry Penley announced he would retire at the end of the season the one question he got from just about everybody was the same. Didn’t he want to keep coaching until he broke the record for coaching wins?
It was a commonly held belief that Penley trailed legendary Wake Forest golf coach Jesse Haddock by three tournament titles to top the all-time tournament coaching career victory total.
Penley had 79 coaching wins, Haddock has been reported, but not documented, to have finished his career with 82.
The Clemson coach usually dismissed the question by saying he believed his time and Haddock’s time were very different and it was an apples and oranges situation.
Well now the apple has turned orange and Penley has guided the Tigers to three victories this year. He is now believed to be tied with Haddock for most victories by a college golf coach.
Clemson claimed its second straight win and third tournament title of the spring with a victory in The Collegiate Invitational at the Birmingham Country Club.
The Tigers entered the final round of the 3-day 54 hole tournament tied with Tennessee.
The Vols Bryce Lewis had almost single handedly kept Tennessee tied for the lead by shooting the best round of the tournament. Lewis posted a 6-under par 65 to keep Tennessee tied with the Tigers after the second round.
The Tigers were kept on top of the leader board in large part due to the play of Zach Gordon. The junior from Gaffney shot a second round 3-under par 68 and was second to only Lewis in the individual standings.
In the final round Gordon continued to play well finishing with an even par round of 71, but it was the Tigers’ top player this year who moved Clemson to the top of the leader board and Penley to the top of the record book.
Jacob Bridgeman was tied for 4th after the first two rounds at 1-under par. The Tiger golfer on the Haskins Award Watch list, didn’t start the final round with a flurry instead he double bogeyed his first hole.
Bridgeman, who at times this year has been among the top-5 ranked players in the country, got a shot back with a birdie on his third hole and went to the back nine at even par.
After three straight pars to start the back, Bridgeman went off on one of his birdie-binges. He has had several this year and the one in Birmingham may have been his most important so far this year.
The Tiger junior from Inman birdied 5 of his last 6-holes. His 4-under par 67 helped Bridgeman get within a shot of Lewis for the individual title.
His 5-under par tournament total put his Clemson team in position to claim a 6-shot victory over the Vols.
“Jacob can really get on a run with that putter,” said Penley. “He gets in these streaks where he believes he can make everything,” said the Clemson coach.
Gordon carded an even par round of 71 to finish at 2-under par for third place and his best finish as a Tiger.
“Zack was terrific the entire tournament. He really held it together the entire day and finished strong with a birdie on the final hole,” noted Penley.
Senior Turk Pettit, who entered the tournament as the Tigers highest ranked golfer at #7, dropped back a few spots with a 4-over par final round, but still finished in a tie for 20th.
Colby Patton tied for 38th, but his 1-under par 70 counted for the Tigers on the final day.
Kyle Cottam, who’s second place finish a week ago was a big part of the Tigers impressive win at The Hayt, finished in 43rd place.
“This one was for Coach,” said Bridgeman. ” I understand how lucky we are to play for him and get to close out his career. I could feel it in the air that everyone was completely locked in on winning the tournament. There was no way me or the others were gonna let another school beat us once we got ahead. He’s a very special guy and a legendary coach,” said Bridgeman.
Penley, who was inducted into the College Golf Coaches Association of America Hall of Fame in 2003, is now tied with a Hall of Fame legend.
The Demon Deacon’s Haddock coached Wake Forest golfers for 30 years. He won a pair of national championships with a team led by Curtis Strange and Jay Haas in 1975 and 1976.
Haddock’s teams dominated the ACC. The Deacons won 15 ACC championships including 10 in a row from 1967 to 1976.
The official Wake Forest record book credits Haddock with 74 wins not the 82 that has been attributed to the long-time Deacon’s coach.
There is more than a little confusion as to where the 82 win total came from, but sometimes legends are better than facts. Haddock passed away at the age of 91 in 2018
With the possibility of three post season tournaments remaining and the Tigers playing well maybe there is another win or two left before Penley heads to the rocking chair.
The ACC Tournament begins in Atlanta on April 22nd. The tournament will be played on the Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course. The course designed by Tom Fazio is the only course in the United States to host an NCAA Division I National Championship, a World Golf Championship and a USGA Championship.