BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – When Chattanooga golf coach Mark Guhne said after the second round of the NCAA Bowling Green Regional that his team was going to come out for Saturday’s final round and try to win the thing, he wasn’t kidding around. That’s exactly what the Mocs did.
Behind a 6-under-par 66 from senior Stephan Jaeger, the Mocs shot a final-round 284, giving them a 54-hole total of 5-under 859 that beat Texas A&M by a shot. UCLA, which led after the first and second rounds, finished at 1-under for the tournament after a closing 292 and had to settle for third place.
Jaeger, who was tied for the individual lead heading into Saturday’s play, won the title going away. His 66 was, by four strokes, the low round of the day and the only round in the 60s. Jaeger finished 13 under par, four shots ahead of UCLA’s Pedro Figueiredo, who closed with a 70. It was Jaeger’s third individual title of the season and second in a row after he ran away with last month’s SoCon championship by 11 shots.
Now it’s on to famed Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif. for the May 29-June 3 NCAA finals. The Mocs have played in the NCAA Regionals in six of Guhne’s seven seasons, and their appearance in the finals will be their second, after a trip in 2009 that netted an 18th-place finish.
“I told the guys last night we could win this tournament, but still, in the back of my mind, I’m thinking we’ve got to make sure we get through (to the finals; only five teams advanced),” Guhne said. “Then all of a sudden I realized – we could really do this.
“I went around to the guys, who were settling down after a shaky start and starting to play well, and just said, ‘we can take this thing if you want to do it. It’s up to you.'”
Jaeger was a hero in just about every way he could have been. The Mocs were holding onto a scant one-stroke lead heading into the final two holes, both of which he birdied. He owned the par-5 18th for the week, playing it in 5-under after eagles in the first and second rounds.
“He’s gotten better every year,” Guhne said. “I think this year after the win at the Golfweek, he started realizing ‘hey I’m pretty doggone good.’ It really started to take hold that I am a player.
“He’s been so solid all year, put up so many good rounds. Then to win conference the way he did, I was really glad to see that. Only a select few guys at UTC have won three tournaments [in their career]. After he got the third one, I said that would be cool if he could win one more.
“And then he goes out there this week and doesn’t just win, he shoots 70-67-66. It was pretty amazing.”
Jaeger had plenty of help after a wild day that saw plenty of birdies, a fair amount of bogeys, a couple of dreaded others and a hole-in-one.
Junior Steven Fox shot 71 for the day and finished tied for third individually, at 5-under, with Tyler Dunlap of Texas A&M and Jonathan Fly of Memphis. The Mocs also counted a 73 from Liam Johnston, the freshman from Scotland who shook off a bogey at No. 16 with a birdie at 17 and a par on 18.
Fitting for such a team effort, the Mocs didn’t have to technically throw out a score – they could count either of the 74s shot by redshirt sophomore Chris Robb and sophomore Davis Bunn, both of whom strapped in for wild rides on Saturday.
Robb started out bogey 5/quadruple-bogey 9 on his first two holes and made three other bogeys, but he still finished at 2-over after making five birdies, including on the last two holes.
“I can’t say enough about him coming back and shooting 2 over,” Guhne said. “That was incredible. It took a lot of guts on his part. I’m very pleased, very proud of him.”
Junior Davis Bunn had a clutch performance, too, shaking off a double-bogey six on No. 15 with an ace at the par-3 16th. He following that with a bogey at 17, but came back to birdie No. 18.
“Everybody contributed all week,” Guhne said. “Everybody had at least two rounds [that counted toward the day’s team total]. I think there were two keys. One was just playing smart. The other was that they believed. They really believe in themselves. They believe they can play. They believed we could win this.”
Guhne will give the Mocs Sunday off, and then it’s back to work preparing to try and win the national championship. Guhne’s not about to say it can’t be done.
“Our guys believe they can play with anybody” he said. “We just beat UCLA, which is No. 3 in the country, Texas A&M, which is a top-15, team, Clemson, Arkansas. They’re ready to go to California and get it done.”