Cougars looking to get past NCAA Golf Regionals for a spot in national championship tournament
There’s a scene in the movie Bull Durham when Kevin Costner’s title character tells his young minor league baseball teammates that the only thing they needed was a “rainout” to get back to their winning ways.
That was exactly the same sentiment that College of Charleston men’s golf coach Mark McEntire had during the second round of the Colonial Athletic Association Men’s Golf Championships last month.
The Cougars had won the CAA Championships three straight times already and were looking for a fourth title with a double-digit lead going into the second round.
With dark clouds and bad weather looming near the Salisbury Country Club in Midlothian, Va., CAA officials were trying to jam in 36 holes in a single day. The Cougars had seen their healthy lead dwindle to a few strokes, and then Parker Derby, who was leading the tournament, broke his putter. He was forced to play a couple of holes using an iron as his putter.
“You could see the clouds moving in and I was just hoping we’d get some rain so we could go back and regroup,” McEntire said. “I could hear Kevin Costner in Bull Durham, just asking for a rainout. I was like, ‘we need a rainout,’ and then the horn sounded.′ ”
The rain did come, ending the round. Derby got a new putter and won as the individual medalist as the Cougars captured their fourth consecutive conference title.
“I think it was fate,” Derby said. “We needed some intervention, and we got it.”
Winning the CAA title earned the Cougars a spot in the NCAA’s Men’s Golf Austin Regional, which is set to begin on Monday at the University of Texas Golf Club in Austin, Texas.
The Cougars will be making their fourth straight postseason appearance. McEntire will be heading home, taking his team to a place where he honed his golf game as a four-year letterman for the Longhorns and was elected team captain during the 1999-2000 season.
“Getting to play is Austin is icing on the cake,” said McEntire, the three-time CAA Coach of the Year who looks to lead his team to nationals for only the second time in program history since 2001. “We have prepared this week as we would for any tournament. Our players are excited to see Austin and play at the UT Club. It is a long course, and par will be a great score.”
The Cougars will start the same starting five it used in the CAA Championships – senior All-American William Rainey, Derby, Philip Oweida, freshman and CAA Rookie of the Year Michael Sass and freshman Hunter Dunagan.
“We’re excited to have another shot at nationals this year,” Derby said. “We are coming into the regional feeling strong about all of our games. We’re going to have a big crowd out there this week, and that support will help us to see those familiar faces. I hope I can play to the ability I know I am capable of and give our team the best chance to win and move on to the nationals. You can’t have the mindset to play for fifth here just to advance. We all have to strive to win this event as if it were any other event.”
The No. 64 Cougars head to Austin for their seventh NCAA Regionals appearance. Last year, they were two spots out of advancing to nationals as a team with a seventh-place finish at the Tuscaloosa Regional. The Cougars last advanced to nationals with a fourth-place finish at the NCAA Central Regional hosted by Oklahoma State in 2001.
Rainey, who is ranked No. 66 in the nation, got a taste of nationals last season as the program’s first-ever individual qualifier to nationals. Then a junior, he tied for 51st (+11) in the tournament.
“In the past, I feel that we have been satisfied just to make it to regionals,” McEntire said. “This year, we want to make it to the national championship. Every day since William and I got back (from Oregon), we have told the team that your college career is not complete until you have played in an NCAA Championship. I believe this is our best shot to date, and we feel like we have done everything to get this team ready for the challenge. We are all ready to get back in action.”
The top five teams and the low individual not on those teams from each of the six regional sites will advance to the NCAA Men’s Golf Championship hosted by Northern Illinois University on May 26-31 at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill.