There was a point on Friday when it looked as though the Georgia Northwestern Bobcats looked ready to make a run at second place, and perhaps even the tournament lead, during the final round of the NJCAA Division III Men's National Golf Championships.
Alas, the run never came materialized.
A tough stretch of holes on the back nine proved to be too much to overcome and the Bobcats ended the tournament by carding a third straight round of 303 at Chautauqua Golf Club in western New York.
Georgia Northwestern, who shot a 308 on a cold, blustery day in round one, finished their first trip to nationals with a total score of 1,217, still good enough to bring home the tournament's third-place trophy.
"It's not bad," head coach Jared Willerson said of his team's finish. "We're trying to enjoy the moment and enjoy third place, but deep in all our hearts, we felt we were as good as the team that won. We kept climbing the mountain, but we just couldn't get over the hump. I really think if we had broken 300 just one round, it would have avalanched and gave us confidence."
The Bobcats got out to a good start on their final round. They were 4-over par after five holes, thanks to a chip-in eagle by Lanier Guest on the third hole. Jordan Estes, alone in second place in the individual standings to begin the day, birdied holes Nos. 5 and 6 to help shave off a stroke on the team score at the turn.
But – as was the case all week long – the back nine proved to be the team's undoing. A six-hole stretch between holes Nos. 10 and 15 saw the Bobcats drop eight shots and they came home with a third consecutive round of 15-over par.
Sophomore Drew Tankersley, playing his final tournament for the program, had the low round for the Bobcats on Friday with a 1-over par 73. He finished with a 316 for the tournament.
"I hate to lose Drew," Willerson said. "He came up big in the final round. Here's a sophomore that's been around the program's inception, so it was just poetic justice that he had our low round today. We're going to miss him, but I think he's going to help out some next year as a graduate assistant, so I'm looking forward to that."
Chase Cole turned in his third round of 75 to finish fourth overall at 299, while Estes came home with a 76 to grab third place overall at 296. Both were named to the six-man All-American first team.
Guest carded a 79 in the final round to finish at 311 and missed All-American Honorable Mention status by a single shot. Grant Allen also finished up with a 79 for a four-day total of 323.
Despite some disappointment, Willerson said the experience was huge for his second-year program.
"There were a lot of positives," he said. "We had two first-team All-Americans and you'll never be able to take that away from them. Getting a big trophy is fun, but still we would have loved to have gotten first (place). However, we're coming loaded for bear next year. We've got a lot of good players coming back and some good players coming in. We'll be ready to go."
Willerson also added that the third-place finish – the best-ever showing for a Georgia Northwestern athletic team – would pay dividends in recruiting.
"This is going to do a lot of us," he added. "We're just now getting on the map. There's some people at Georgia Northwestern that still don't know we have a golf team. But this will only help get us where we want to go and that's to be one of the top programs in the nation."
After leading for the first three rounds of the tournament, defending national champion Sandhills (N.C.) Community College lost the lead on Friday. Cincinnati State (Ohio), led by individual champion Taylor Suggs, turned in a 294 in the final round to beat Sandhills (297) by two strokes. Cincinnati State finished at 1,199 with Sandhills finished with a score of 1,201.
Minnesota State Tech (1,246) edged out Monroe (N.Y.) Community College (1,248) for fourth.
NJCAA Division III Men's National Golf Tournament
(Chautauqua Golf Club, Chautauqua, NY, Par 72, 6,559 yards)
Final Team Standings
1. Cincinnati State 1,199
2. Sandhills, N.C. 1,201
3. Georgia Northwestern 1,217
4. Minnesota State 1,246
5. Monroe, N.Y. 1,248
6. DuPage, Ill. 1,255
7. Butler Co., Pa. 1,265
8. C.C. of Rhode Island 1,280
9. Genesee, Ill. 1,318
10. Lehigh Carbon, Pa. 1,325
11. Morris, N.J. 1,332
12. Nassau, N.Y. 1,353