WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – No. 19 Auburn men’s golf finished as the NCAA West Lafayette Regional runner-up to advance to its sixth consecutive NCAA Championship behind senior Matt Gilchrest, who carded a pair of 2-under 70s in the final two rounds to finish in a tie for third individually, one shot back.
Auburn is one of six teams in the nation … Florida State, Illinois, Oklahoma, Texas and Southern California the others … who have made at least six-straight NCAA Championship appearances.
The Tigers, which shot a final round 8-over 296 in winds that gusted to 40 mph for most of the round, finished at 11-over 875, three shots behind No. 17 UNLV (287-288-299—872). Auburn improved from a tie for fifth after the first round and a tie for third after the second.
“It was fantastic, and the guys were very resilient today to make our sixth-straight NCAA Championship is one of the best in the country and shows that we have an elite program,” said Auburn head coach Nick Clinard. “The guys came out today and got it under par, and we had the lead through 12-13 holes. It’s going to help us moving forward.
It is Auburn’s best NCAA Regional finish since tying for second in the 2013 NCAA East Regional in Columbus, Ohio. It was a pair of seniors in Gilchrest and Ryan Benton who led the Tigers in the final round.
“They were clutch today, exactly what you want out of your seniors,” said Clinard. “Ryan Benton was 3-under through No. 8 and made the turn at 2-under. He came down the stretch and made a great par at 18.
“Matt had it all the way to 4-under and was leading the tournament. He made a few hiccups coming in, but they were tough holes. Anytime you have a 480-yard par 4 into a 30 mph wind, it plays like a par 5. I’m really proud of them.”
No. 8 Illinois (288-296-294—878) jumped from sixth to third followed by New Mexico (288-282-310—880) and host Purdue (292-287-303—882) as the top five advanced to the 121st NCAA Men’s Golf Championship at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill., May 26-31.
“I think the course looks a lot like this,” said Gilchrest in how The Kampen prepares the Tigers for the NCAA Championship. “Obviously, I don’t know what the conditions are going to be like, but it is pretty close to here geographically. The grass is the same, and the competition is the same.”
Gilchrest, who was named to the All-NCAA Regional team, was on fire with five birdies at Nos. 4, 6, 10, 11 and 15 to get to 4-under and a three-way tie for the lead before bogeying the 16th and 18th.
“It feels awesome. It was our only goal heading into this week,” said Gilchrest on advancing. “I didn’t know what to do because you are playing so hard and at one point I was 4-under and was like, ‘woah, I’m 4-under.’ Going forward it gives you a pass to go backwards and unfortunately, I did, but the end is pretty tough.”
Freshman Jovan Rebula tied for 21st at 7-over after a final round 81 and sophomore Jacob Solomon tied for 31st at 9-over with a 79. Sophomore Trace Crowe tied for 50th at 13-over with a 75 while Benton jumped all the way from 71st to a tie for 55th with an impressive even par final round that featured birdies at Nos. 2, 7 and 8.
“We played pretty solid all week,” said Benton. “It was very tough out there today. It was pretty windy. My first round (83) wasn’t too good, but you can’t let that bother you. I knew I had four other guys out there who had my back. It was very tough playing today (in the wind). You definitely had to get creative. I really enjoy playing in wind because a lot of guys don’t like it so you already have those guys beat.”
Augusta (296-290-299—885) and Saint Mary’s(294-296-295—885) finished three shots off the cutline in a tie for sixth ahead of No. 5 Florida (292-287-312—891), South Carolina (291-302-302—895), Campbell (306-300-297—903), Richmond (297-306-303—906), Colorado (304-308-298—910) and Cleveland State (310-299-305—914).
New Mexico’s Andrej Bevins and Illinois’ Nick Hardy were co-medalists at 3-under, a shot ahead of Gilchrest, and UNLV’s Shintaro Ban.