There are wins and then there are wins!
“This is one we can hang our hat on,” said a very proud Lander golf coach Mark Riddle.
Lander got the biggest tournament victory in the history of the program with its win at the Copperhead Championship.
The Bearcats finished in front of the first seven ranked teams in the NCAA Division II Golf Coaches Association poll and 11 of the top15 teams in the country according to the Golfstat Rankings.
If you are not familiar with Division II golf maybe this will help. Lander’s win was the Division I equivalent of topping Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Arizona State, North Carolina, Texas and Stanford all in the same tournament.
“When you go to Florida to play a tournament you know you are always going to play good teams, but this field was stacked with the best in the country,” noted Riddle.
Entering the tournament the Bearcats were ranked 29th in the GolfStat poll, but that certainly will change after the victory at the Innisbrook Resort is figured into the rankings.
Lander opened the 54 hole event with a 289 first round total to trail #12 St Leo by seven shots.
Bearcat senior Maxime Legross tied for the best round of the day at 2-under par 69 and shared the individual lead.
In the second round the Bearcats began to reel in St. Leo, at the end of 36-holes the seven shot margin was cut down to just a three shot advantage going into the final round.
“We had not played well in our last tournament (13th place at Queens Invitational) and we worked really hard to be ready for the trip to Florida. Our qualifying rounds were great and I knew if we could put it all together we could compete with the teams in the tournament,” said Riddle.
For most of the final round it was a battle between St Leo, Barry and Lander.
Barry took the lead for a time, but fell back as did St. Leo. Lander took advantage of the opportunity to move into the lead and held it to the finish.
The Bearcats played solid and posted a 294 round, which was their highest total for the week. St. Leo struggled to a 303 total to fall six shots behind Lander and finished in a three way tie for second with Barry and Lincoln Memorial.
“It was close most of the way, but we played the really difficult holes well all week and that helped us get the win,” said Riddle.
Besides the top ranked competition the Copperhead Course tested all the competitors games.
The course has been ranked as high as the third most difficult course on the PGA Tour and the “Snake Pit” holes 16, 17 and 18 are the most treacherous part of the course.
Lander played those last three holes at even par for the tournament.
Legross was in position for an individual win, but his final round 4 over par 75 dropped him back behind Luke Harries. The Lincoln Memorial golfer shot a final round 2-under par 69 to claim medalist honors by three shots.
Lander has posted wins in each of the last two seasons and so far this year has three top-ten finishes, but winning against the level of competition at the Copperhead Championship makes this win extra special.
Top ranked Arkansas Tech finished 7th, second ranked Barry finished 2rd, third ranked Lynn University finished 12th, fourth ranked West Florida finished 6th and fifth ranked Lincoln Memorial also tied for 2nd.
” When we finished I started getting messages congratulating me and the team for the win and how big it was for the program. While you’re playing you are not thinking about anything but trying to win, but now we can enjoy it,” said Riddle.
In addition to Legros’s second place finish the Bearcats also got a top-five individual performance from Hugo Lari who closed out his tournament with a 1-under par 70 to tie for fifth place.
Linus Jonsson finished in a tie for 13th place while Chris Fortenberry and Gaston Edberg each contributed counting rounds during the tournament.
The win should improve Lander’s spot in the national polls as they prepare for another tournament with a very strong field at the Atlanta National Intercollegiate starting on October 25th.
“This is the kind of win that makes all the hard work this team has done pay off. We are still a young team and getting a big win like this is going to help us for the rest of the year,” concluded Riddle.
Copperhead Championship scores from GolfStat http://results.golfstat.com//public/leaderboards/gsnav.cfm?pg=team&tid=23290