GOLF: Ball State men’s golf advances to NCAA Championships
The Daily News
Uncertainty hung like a cloud over the Ball State men’s golf team. With its season on the line, the Cardinals went 3-over on a cold, blustery day in Pullman, Wash.
Sitting at 8-under, three strokes out of the fifth and final spot that would advance to Nationals, all Ball State could do was watch.
San Diego State controlled its own fate, but on a day that saw Pullman Regional winner and unanimous No. 1 California post its highest score of the event, par-golf was not a “gimme.”
When the last Aztecs finished up, they were knotted in a tie with Ball State for fifth.
To resolve the tie, the 10 golfers met at the 18th tee box, with the four lowest scores for each team set to determine who was going to Atlanta, and whose season was ending.
The 551-yard par-5 had been a friendly hole through the first 36 holes, but Saturday’s inclement weather bumped the course average above par. Both Ball State and San Diego State were collectively 1-over on the day.
Off the tee, Ball State coach Mike Fleck said San Diego State was in better position to mark circles, but as the team had predicted, the playoff came down to touch around the green.
“It’s something the guys talked about on the tee before the playoff hole,” Fleck said in a news release. “They said it was really going to come down to the shots around the green, and it definitely did. San Diego State looked like they were in much better position, but our last three guys got it done. It was awesome to watch.”
Pars from junior Tyler Merkel, senior Tony Lazzara and sophomore McCormick Clouser, left the Cardinals in position to win with one golfer remaining.
Senior Alex Stinson, who was 3-under on the day and 4-under for the tournament, found himself in the bunker, but his approach shot landed within a foot of the hole.
“I honestly thought I made it when I hit it,” Stinson said in a news release. “But that’s not what it’s about.
When Stinson’s up-and-down birdie putt dropped, Ball State erupted in cheers that just hours ago had been somber, waiting silence.
Merkel finished in a tie for 30th individually. He finished 1-under, and was Ball State’s second top scorer behind Stinson, who finished in 19th.
Lazzara carded out at 5-over, Clouser finished even and senior Joe Gasser at 1-over. Gasser’s birdie on 18 to end regulation allowed Ball State to be in position to force a playoff.
The team total of 864 is the lowest for a Ball State team in a 54-hole NCAA event.
Ball State will be making its 13th NCAA Nationals appearance, and joins California, TCU, Saint Mary’s (Calif.) and Southern California from the Pullman Regional.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” Fleck said. “Our motto the last few years has been to stay relevant, and we did that this week. Coming down those last few holes [in regulation], I kind of thought we had lost the opportunity, but we didn’t. It’s amazing what these guys have done and what they continue to do. And we’re still relevant.”
Stinson echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“One goal down, let’s see what we can do at Nationals,” Stinson said in a news release.