Clemson men’s golf punches ticket to National Championship
Kingston Springs, Tennessee (CU) — Turk Pettit posted his second consecutive round of two-under-par 69, while Jacob Bridgeman and Kyle Cottam both fired one-under-par 70s in leading Clemson to a tie for fourth at the NCAA Kingston Regional at the Golf Club of Tennessee on Wednesday. The Tigers will join host school Vanderbilt, Arkansas, San Diego State and NC State as the five schools that will advance to the NCAA National Tournament in Scottsdale, Arizona on May 28.
It marks the sixth straight time Clemson has qualified for the NCAA National Championship tournament. Clemson is one of seven schools to do it, and is joined on the list by Arizona State, Illinois, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Vanderbilt.
Clemson entered the final round in a fifth-place tie with Charlotte. The Tigers, 49ers and NC State Wolfpack were grouped together and there were more lead changes over the course of the day than an ACC basketball game. Over the course of the day Clemson was anywhere from seventh place to a tie for third.
But, in the end Larry Penley’s veteran team tied for fourth to advance to the national tournament. It is the 30th time in his 37 opportunities over 38 years as Clemson coach that he has taken the Tigers to the national tournament.
“It was quite a day, it was nerve wracking, but I am proud of my team,” said Penley, who has announced this will be his last year as Clemson head coach. “Turk got off to that great start with birdies on his first three holes and it put me a little at ease. But there were a lot of lead changes, a lot of back and forth the entire day.
“We made three birdies on the 17th hole (Clemson’s eighth hole of the day) and that was big because NC State and Charlotte were both making birdies also. Then on the front side Cottam and Pettit both made birdie on the third hole, which had been the toughest hole on the course the first two rounds.
“The wind on the front side was different from the first two rounds. It was really a different golf course on that side and it took some time to get used to it.
“I was especially proud of Turk today. His start was huge. He then made a double on the eighth hole when he lost his tee shot to the right in the trees. I know that bothered him because he had a chance to win the golf tournament (individually) and I know that was something he wanted to do. But, he played the 18th hole perfectly to clinch our spot in Arizona.”
Earlier in the day, Pettit hit an errant second shot on his approach to the par five fifth hole. A search party ensued in the right rough, but his father, a former college golfer for Huntington University (Alabama), found the ball. Pettit recovered to get up-and-down from off the green to make a par.
Pettit stood on the tee of the 465-yard par four ninth hole, his final hole of the day, with Clemson ahead of Charlotte by two shots. He striped his drive down the middle of the fairway, leaving just 129 yards to the pin. He hit his second shot to within 10 feet with a 50-degree wedge. He missed the birdie putt, but left just a tap-in to give Clemson the needed tie for fourth in the tournament.
Pettit finished fourth with a score of five-under-par 208. It was his sixth top 10 finish in seven tournaments this year, his third top four. He led the Tigers in birdies for the tournament with 13.
Cottam shot his second consecutive 70 on Wednesday to finish with a 54-hole score of 212, good enough for an 18th place finish. Cottam has now shot 70 or better in five of his six postseason (ACC and NCAA) rounds. He was Clemson’s top golfer at the ACC Tournament in stroke play (205) and match play (2-0).
Bridgeman showed improvement each round of the tournament, going 72-71-70 for a 54-hole total of even-par 213. Ranked first in the nation in stroke average entering the tournament, the junior finished in a tie for 19th , his seventh top 20 finish in eight tournaments this year. He got off to a tough start on Wednesday and was two-over-par through six holes. But he played the final 12 in three-under-par, as he made birdie on three par fives.
An unsung hero of Wednesday’s round was Colby Patton. The senior who plans to return for another year next season was five-over-par for his first 12 holes. At one point he was on pace to be Clemson’s non-counter by four shots. But he persevered and played the last six holes in two-under-par and ended up an important counter.
Zack Gordon got the Tigers off to a good start with a birdie on the par three 10th hole, but he found trouble late in his round on the eighth hole and finished with an 81. His second round 69 led the Tigers that day.
Wednesday’s performance was meaningful to Penley because 16 years earlier the Tigers failed to advance out of an NCAA regional on this same course. The Tigers missed the cut by just two shots that year, the first time in 21 years Clemson missed going to the national tournament. Today, Penley’s team made the cut by two shots.