Oct. 5, 2010
CHOUDRANT - Louisiana Tech head coach Jeff Parks knew that his team would have to play well during Tuesday's final round in order to overtake first-day leader Southeastern Louisiana at the 2010 Squire Creek Invitational hosted by the Bulldogs.
Trailing the 63rd ranked Lions by three strokes heading into Tuesday morning's final round, no one could blame Parks for feeling pretty frustrated as he watched his team shoot five over par on the very first hole under blue skies and cool temperatures at Squire Creek Golf Course.
However, the Bulldogs were simply saving their best for last.
Behind a strong team effort that saw six of the nine LA Tech players finish in the top 17 of the event (although sophomore Sam Forgan was eventually disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard), the Bulldogs captured their first team tournament title since winning the Hal Sutton Intercollegiate in the fall of 2007.
"It's awesome," said Parks. "It validates what we have been doing. I'm excited about where the program is headed. We are seeing some success, and I hope it is one of many to come.
"There are nine guys on this team, and they all have a role in what we do from qualifying to how we play in each tournament. Everyone is stepping up. It's been an awesome team effort. It's a lot of fun to see them grow and push each other."
Trying to pinpoint just one shot or just one player to give the lion's share of the credit too would be impossible. It took a dramatic finish which included a variety of headlines.
Start with junior Cody Santone who started the tournament by shooting an opening round 11-over-par 83 - the worst round of his collegiate career. Instead of allowing that aberration to affect the rest of his tournament, Santone showed some grit by rebounding to fire back-to-back 71's.
"What an incredible mindset," Parks said. "He is a grinder. That is the best way to describe him. He totally left it behind him and went out and shot a 71 that afternoon. Today it came down to his next to last hole before he could get it under par. He struggled a little in the middle of the round, but he continued to fight through it."
Santone birdied his next to last hole of the event, marking the first time all day he had entered red numbers for the Bulldogs.
"That was a tough one to get through," Santone said, referring to his opening round. "I made a couple of big numbers in that round. I knew if I could hold on I would get to start over after that one which was a good thing. I knew I could contribute in the second and third rounds. It was encouraging to know we have (so much depth) and my score could get thrown out without hurting us."
True freshman Jack Lempke looked like a veteran during the final 18 holes of the event as he fired a one-under-par 71 which included a birdie on his closing hole, the par-5 No. 2.
"He openly admitted (afterwards) that he was more nervous than he had ever been standing on the final hole of his first home collegiate event," Parks said. "He was ripping a driver and then knocking a 4-iron on the surface. Then he two putts for a birdie. That's strong."
Lempke, who is arguably the best putter on the Bulldog team, used the flat blade to shave off an important stroke from his final score in a pressure-packed moment.
"The last hole was a par 5. I hit a good drive and was talking to coach, and he told me we were really close (to Southeastern)," Lempke said. "I obviously had no idea what anyone else was shooting, but I figured I needed to get something done as one stroke could make a difference.
"I hit a 4-iron from the fairway onto the green. Coach helped me read the putt; it was about a 40-footer. I lagged it up there to about six feet. It was a little right to left putt. It was the most nervous I've ever been as my whole team was watching. I made it and we won by one so it was a nice feeling to know we got it done."
Getting it done was exactly what the Bulldogs did during the final two rounds of the 54-hole event which featured 12 teams.
After opening the tournament with a nine-over-par 297 which saw senior Clinton Shepard fire the only red number of the round - an impressive three-under-par 69 -, the rest of the Bulldogs tightened their games and starting making their move.
Down 10 strokes to Jacksonville State and five strokes to Southeastern Louisiana, Tech shot a one-under-par 287 during Monday's afternoon round to close the gap. It was a position that the Bulldogs were all too familiar with from previous events.
"Coach brought up the Southern Miss tournament last night and said we had been there before; it wasn't going to be any different playing in the last group today," Shepard said. "He really didn't have to say much. He knows we are a confident group."
That confidence only grew through Tuesday's competition.
With Tech and Southeastern battling throughout the day, Parks and Co. knew it could come down to a few key chips or putts over the final three or four holes. Junior Jonathan Bale did both.
On the par 5 No. 17, Bale was sitting in the greenside bunker when he pulled out one of the biggest shots of the tournament, calmly chipping in for an eagle three with only three holes to play.
Bale wasn't finished. Three holes later, he sank an eagle putt on No. 2 to finish the day at one-under-par 71.
"There are 800 and however many shots in a tournament," Parks said. "They all matter. However, those are big ones. He holed it out of the bunker on No. 17, which was an incredible shot. There was some luck involved there, but there is a lot of skill involved too. Then he was able to pull out an eagle on his final hole; that is getting it done."
With Santone, Bale and Lempke all shooting even par or better Tuesday, Parks needed either Shepard or Forgan to come through.
It appeared Forgan was going to be the man as he shot a three-over-par 75, giving the Bulldogs a slim two stroke victory ... or at least it appeared.
However, only minutes after the final totals were tabulated, it was discovered that Forgan had signed an incorrect scorecard, disqualifying him from the event.
"It makes me sick to know he grinds the entire tournament and plays awesome golf and then signs the wrong card," Parks said. "He had a few things wrong on there and unfortunately when I checked the card, I even missed it. I'm taking just as much blame for it. That's part of my duties; ultimately it's the player's responsibility. It's unfortunate but rules are rules. If you sign a wrong card, you sign a wrong card and it's a disqualification."
With Forgan's score discarded, the attention turned to the total on Shepard's scorecard which would now be used in determining the final outcome.
Shepard opened the day with a triple bogey eight on the par 5 No. 2. However, what started out as a disastrous day for the senior simply turned into another headline as the West Monroe native battled over the final 17 holes to finish with a 76.
The total would give the Bulldogs a one stroke victory, something that Shepard attributed to the entire team.
"It says a lot about the depth of the team," Shepard said. "It's one of the things we have talked about before every tournament. We see the other teams on the scoreboard; where they have to throw out a high round or two. I know in Hattiesburg, the highest round we had to throw out was a 75. It was pretty much like that at Waterchase too. I can't say enough about all nine guys on this team. Qualifying each week for us is just as stressful and any one of the nine guys could represent us, and we would be fine."
Shepard and senior Cody Blankenship (playing as an individual) led Tech finishing sixth with a total of two-over-par 220 followed by Bale and Lempke (T12, 223) and Santone (T16th, 225). Patrick Blunt (T31st, 230), Travis Wilmore (T48th, 238) and Hayden Stephens (T54th, 241) all competed as individuals.
For the third straight year, a Southeastern Louisiana golfer won the individual competition as Horacio Leon ran away with the title, shooting an eight-under-par 208 - seven strokes better than his nearest competitor.