On Monday in Allendale, Mich., the Delta State University Statesmen will get their chance to prove their the best in the nation as they will play in the NCAA Division II National Championship Golf Tournament. Practice rounds for the tournament began today with the first round set to start on Monday. The tournament will last through Friday. The trip to the national tournament is DSU’s first since 2005.
The Statesmen, ranked 26th in the nation according to golfstat.com, have managed to get this far by finishing in a tie for second in the Gulf South Conference Tournament in Tunica and tied for sixth in the South/Southeast Super Region Tournament in Pooler, Ga.
Delta State head golf coach Sam Dunning said the team is anxiously waiting to get its chance to play in nationals.
“Our hopes are really good,” Dunning said. “We’re starting to peak toward the end, which is kind of unusual for us. I’m looking forward to see if we can continue to get better and better.”
Delta State has 12 total golfers on the team. The five golfers that are going to the national championships are Reed Lindsey, Brad Thornton, Cameron Thomas, Zack Prichett and Chad Cupples. The first time the five golfers played in a tournament together was in the GSC Tournament. The golfers displayed some magic on the second round of the tournament as they shot a 10-under par, 278. Delta State and North Alabama, ranked 12th nationally, finished tied for second in the tournament with a 6-over par, 870.
In the NCAA South/Southeast Regional, those same five golfers proved what they can do once more by shooting an impressive 12-under par, 276 in the final round. The round put DSU tied with North Alabama again for sixth place with a three-round score of 881, which is 17-over par. The teams that finished ahead of DSU in the regional are top ranked Barry (868), sixth ranked Nova Southeastern (874), eighth ranked Armstrong (876), third ranked South Carolina-Aiken (876) and fifth ranked Lynn University (877). DSU’s 276 on the final day of the region was the lowest score for any round shot in the tournament.
Dunning said trying to find the five best guys to play in a tournament hasn’t been easy.
“This year through 10 tournaments, we had a different five for various different reasons — nothing by design,” Dunning said. “Certainly, they played good in the conference and they stayed together for the regionals and the same five will be going to the nationals also.”
The 10-under par round the five shot in the GSC Tournament and the 12-under par round the golfers shot in the regional tournament far surpassed Dunning’s expectations.
“Actually during the regionals, I was hoping it would just be a good experience for everybody to grow on for the next year,” Dunning said. “Then that 12-under was nothing I ever even dreamed about. It just came out of the blue.”
The Statesmen were actually in 15th going into the final day of the regional. In the last round of the region tournament, Cupples birded on his first three holes to start the last day Thornton shot the low score of the day with a 67, Lindsey shot a 68, Cupples finished with a 69, Thomas posted a 72 and Prichett turned in a 75.
Lindsey said the team really didn’t have a big mountain to climb.
“It wasn’t as bad as it sounded like,” Lindsey said. “We knew we had a chance if we could post something like what we did. Even though we were in that bad of a place, we weren’t really that far off.”
Lindsey said he was overjoyed when he found out the team was going to the national tournament.
“It was probably the best feeling of my golf career,” Lindsey said. “We played that morning and those teams were finishing that afternoon. We were getting ready to go into a playoff, and we had just been really anxious all day to see what was going to happen. When we found out, it was a really good feeling. We weren’t going to a playoff, because we punched our ticket to nationals.”
Thornton said the road to the nationals has been a work in progress.
“This (regional) is the second tournament that this five has played together,” Thornton said. “We’ve had an alternating roster for various reasons, and we pulled it together at conference. We didn’t have the best start to regionals, but when a guy starts off with three straight birdies on the last day, everybody just kind of fed off it.”
If DSU can finish in the top eight after the first three rounds of the tournament, the team will advance to match play on Thursday. The final two teams remaining will play on Friday for the national championship.
Thornton felt good about what the team is capable of at nationals.
“As far as our chances at nationals, the way I look at it, we’ve got the same shot as 19 other teams,” Thornton said. “They all start off even. It’s not about national rankings. It’s about how you play for three rounds. Obviously, we have the skill to do it.”
Dunning was also very grateful for the contributions made by graduate assistant coach Allie Maxwell.
“He’s been a big help, and he’s been to every tournament, ”Dunning said. “I can’t go to all of them. We probably wouldn’t be where we are without him.”