Smith wins Div. II title in playoff
May 23, 2009
BLAINE, Wash. -
JOE SUNNEN - THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
Gavin Smith thought his day was finished at the NCAA Division II National Men's Golf Tournament after shooting a 3-over 74 during his final round to sit four strokes behind the leaders as they made their turn.
Then the pack came back to the junior from Indiana University of Pennsylvania via Scotland, and while Smith hovered nervously around the 18th hole the improbable became the down right miraculous.
Smith sank an 18-foot birdie putt on a playoff hole to beat Kelbi Lee of Ferris State by a stroke to win the NCAA Division II national men's golf title at Loomis Trail Golf Club in Blaine on Friday, May 22. Smith birdied only one other hole on the day, but finished at par on 13 of the 18 holes he played in regulation. Sonoma State defeated Cal State University-San Bernardino also in a playoff hole, even-par to 1-over, to win the team title.
"I really don't know what to tell you," Smith said. "I'm just a kid from Scotland. I never thought anything like this could happen. I came here just hoping to finish in the top 20. After I shot a 69 on the second day I thought maybe I could make it into the top 10, but never anything like this."
Smith used a pitching wedge that he'd borrowed from Western Washington University golf coach Steve Card to set up his birdie putt. Smith left his wedge back in Pennsylvania and used Card's wedge throughout the tournament.
"That was my lucky club," Smith said. "I had five birdies in three days with that club. Every time I touched that club I got a birdie."
As Smith waited and hoped for a chance to sneak into a playoff for the individual title, the leaders slowly started to erode in front of him. Gene Webster of CSU-San Bernardino held a two-stroke lead after the 15th hole, but double-bogeyed the 16th and 18th hole to fall out of title contention and open the door for Smith and Lee.
Sonoma State's Patrick Bauer suffered a similar fate as Webster, falling out of title contention on the 18th hole when he finished with a bogey on the par-5 hole after rallying throughout the day. Bauer's bogey, though, was enough to force a playoff for the national team title that the Seawolves would go onto win.
The team came back from an amazing nine-stroke deficit at the start of the day to win the program's first national championship and the third for any sport in the school's history.
"We knew that we had to play better golf," Sonoma State coach Val Verhunce said. "All week we struggled on our closing holes, but today we managed to finish up. We didn't play our best, but we feel pretty good about it. Ultimately whether we won or lost wasn't really important. I just wanted the guys to feel good about what they accomplished throughout the year."
Western Washington University's Jake Koppenberg was another golfer who felt pretty good about his season and his play at the national tournament. Koppenberg birdied three of his final four holes, including his last two, to finish tied for 12th overall at 10-over 294. Koppenberg was also named a first-team NCAA Division II PING/Golf Coaches Association of America All-American after the tournament.
"I wish this week had been better, but getting those birdies on the last few holes kind of put a bandage on the wound," Koppenberg said.
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