BATON ROUGE, La. – For the first time in school history, Jacksonville University men's golf is headed to the NCAA Championships. The 42nd-ranked Dolphins came back from as many as 10 strokes down in the third round and won a sudden-death tiebreak playoff with No. 29 Northwestern to earn the fifth and final spot in the NCAA Championships from the Baton Rouge Regional, Wednesday at The University Club.
"It's a culmunation of what we started in August," said Head Coach Mike Blackburn. "I couldn't be happier for this team. They really fought back into it today. The finish we had back at the SunTrust Gator Invitational made us believe that we could make a comeback like this."
The day reached a tipping point on the fourth hole, the 13th hole of the day for David Wicks. The senior from Bexhill, England, picked up his ball after his first putt finished around three feet from the hole and placed it in his pocket. While waiting for the other golfers in his group to finish their putts, Wicks backed up towards the bunker, which has a lake just behind it. Wicks went to pull his scorecard out of his pocket, and as he reached for the card his ball fell out of his pocket, kicked off his shoe, and fell into the lake. NCAA rules state that a golfer must find their personal ball in order to continue the hole without any penalty. Wicks stripped down to his underwear and dove in with a five-minute time limit.
"David probably found 20 balls in the stretch of five minutes, but he never could find his," said Blackburn. "It was just a stroke of bad luck. After the five minute period ended the rules officials gave him a two-stroke penalty, which really could've hampered our comeback. But David rebounded, finishing the day with five straight pars to keep us in the race."
Tied at 883 after three rounds, the Dolphins and Wildcats entered a tiebreaker for the fifth qualifying spot. The sudden-death playoff between Jacksonville and Northwestern began at the 18th hole as Ryan Jahn, Sam Uhland, and Elliott Fullalove shot a 5-6-5 to open the tiebreaker, while Northwestern's Everton Hawkins and Conor Richardson shot 5-5 on the Par 4 hole.
Tied at +2, the Dolphins and Wildcats moved on to the 10th hole where Jahn, Uhland, and Fullalove went 4-4-3 and Northwestern's Hawkins and Richardson shot 4-5. On the second wave, a Wildcat drive went out of bounds and Wicks and Raul Pereda shot par to finish -1 as a team. At their choice, the final three Wildcats declined to record a score, sending the Dolphins to their first NCAA Championships in program history.
At the start of the round, the Dolphins were in seventh place and trailed by five strokes. The Dolphins trailed by as many as ten strokes in the round, but a furious comeback aided by tremendous play from Jahn and Fullalove, who shot five strokes and 11 strokes lower than yesterday's round, respectively, helped propel Jacksonville back into contention.
Wicks paced the Dolphins with a three-round total of 219 (74+74+71) to finish tied for seventh, and had 32 holes of par or better including 12 birdies. Just one stroke behind was Pereda with a 220 (71+76+73) to finish tied for 12th with 31 holes of par or better, including 11 birdies and an eagle. With 36 holes of par, including six birdies, Jahn finished tied for 17th with 222, while Uhland finished tied for 24th with 224. Fullalove finished with a 234 three-round total to tie for 58th.
No. 6 LSU placed first with a three-round total of 866, followed by No. 19 Duke (874), No. 7 Oregon (879), and No. 18 Virginia (881).
Of the eight nationally-ranked teams at the regional, No. 42 Jacksonville and No. 29 Northwestern finished one stroke ahead of No. 43 Kentucky, who placed sixth with a three-round total of 884, while No. 31 Arkansas (893) placed eighth overall.
The top five schools advance to the NCAA Championships May 26-29 at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill.