The Georgia Military College men’s golf team are national champions once again after putting on a gritty performance in Chautauqua, N.Y. last week.
The GMC men improved their team scores every day of the four-day event, posting rounds of 315, 314, 305, and 301, respectively, to edge national runner-up Sandhills Community College on the final hole of the final day of play. The NJCAA Division III championship marks the third for the Bulldogs’ program and second in the last three years.
“It really hasn’t set in,” said first-year GMC golf coach Charles Van Horn. “You’re so hyped on what you’re doing and trying to get it done that you don’t really grasp the magnitude of what we did.”
NJCAA First Team All-American Dusty Watts posted a 2-under score in the tournament’s final four holes to help propel GMC to the top as his four-day, 10-over 298 placed him second overall in the field. He was joined by two other Bulldogs in receiving All-America honors. Teammate Luke Ninneman, who shot a 307 to finish sixth overall, also received First Team recognition while Austin Quillian’s 317 tied him for 17th, which was good enough for All-America Honorable Mention.
It only took one round for GMC, eventual runner-up Sandhills, and third-place finisher Minnesota State Community Tech to separate themselves from the field. They all finished within three strokes of one another while fourth place stood 12 strokes behind first-round leader Sandhills. Conditions were “horrible” according to Van Horn through the first two days as the wet course caused teams to shoot higher than their true numbers, but as the course improved the cream rose to the top.
The Sandhills golfers played out their minds in round three, shooting a tournament-best 293 to set themselves up nicely for the final day. They led Minnesota State by three shots and the Bulldogs by 11. The GMC head coach’s message to his team heading into round four was clear.
“They just shot great that one day,” Van Horn recalled. “There’s no reason we can’t do that and surpass them. If they come out and shoot anything in the teens and we shoot low 300s, we could make up that deficit.”
That’s exactly what happened in the tournament’s deciding round. Sandhills, led by tournament low medalist Trey Capps (4-over), shot a 313 while the Bulldogs saved their best round for last and posted a 301.
“I told them to shoot 300, and I told them I was pretty mad about that they were one stroke over that,” Van Horn quipped.
Like the GMC men, third-place finisher Minnesota State improved its scores every round, just not at the rate of the Bulldogs. Every GMC golfer showed up in some way to help the team to the title. Ninneman’s final-round 72 was among the lowest scores shot on the tournament’s final day while Quillian and Coby Eunice also both shot their tournament-bests Friday.
While the championship was definitely a total team effort, it was Watts’ birdie on tournament hole No. 72 coupled with a Sandhills bogey that sealed the deal. Van Horn walked the final four holes with his No. 1 player to help him keep his nerves in check. Watts used his 3 wood successfully from the tee box then set himself up nicely with a good approach before sinking the championship-clinching birdie on the 340-yard par 4. Turns out Van Horn, who keeps a golf tee in his mouth while coaching tournaments, was the one who needed his nerves checked.
“I almost chewed through it I was so nervous,” he said.
The Bulldogs’ no-quit attitude netted the program its third national title and second in three years. This most recent championship was anything but a foregone conclusion, though, as Van Horn realized once he took over the program that his players’ scores would not get the job done.
“We looked at the national scores to see what we needed to shoot in order to get there,” the head coach said. “We were not there when I first got with the program, and I knew it. I think we had the right horses, but they were running in the wrong direction.”
A regimented practice schedule put the team on the track to the national championship, and Van Horn believes the program isn’t done yet. All-American Dusty Watts and honorable mention recipient Austin Quillian are both expected back next year along with what the first-year GMC head coach believes is a strong recruiting class.
“I think I've recruited really, really, well, so hopefully we’ll be out there again next year,” he said.