Above photo courtesy of the American Southwest Conference
GRANBURY, Texas- It did not seem like the race for the ASC men’s golf individual title could get any closer as the back nine of Sunday’s round three approached. And then it did. UMHB’s Andrew Baucum and Concordia’s Ben Constancio were tied through 18 holes, forcing a sudden-death playoff between the tournament’s two leaders. It took just one hole to decide the champion, as Baucum recorded a par to defeat Constancio, and claim his first ASC individual crown.
“Andrew is a special talent,” UMHB head coach Jordan Cox said of Baucum. “He has proven time and time again this year that he is a champion. He did that today in a playoff. He has had a terrific year and helped our team to have one as well.”
Baucum’s narrow victory very much mirrored the fight of his entire team, as the Cru jumped from fourth place to first between rounds one and two. They then held on for the final 18 holes, though just barely, pulling out their second consecutive conference championship by a single stroke. UMHB finished at 885 (+21), with LeTourneau hot on its heels on Sunday, finishing with an 886 (+22). And because of that one stroke, UMHB will be representing the ASC at next week’s NCAA Tournament, played at Mission Inn Resort and Club in Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida.
“We feel very blessed to have now won back to back ASC championships,” Cox said. “Today’s result was the closest finish in ASC men’s golf championship history. We feel fortunate to have come out on top.”
The tournament was hard-fought all the way through, as it took the first round for UMHB to regain the rhythm the Crusaders exemplified when they won the ASC Preview on this same course in late October. A 298 (+10) tied Cox’s six-man squad for fourth with Concordia, while LeTourneau held a five-stroke advantage. But that soon changed, with UMHB carding the best second-round performance of any of the eight teams in the field, as Baucum took the individual lead.
For Baucum, it was the perfect addition to an already exceptional freshman campaign. Three weeks before the tournament, the native of Rockwall, Texas tied the conference record for Golfer of the Week, earning his sixth honor after a second-place finish at the West Regional. And then on Saturday, playing on the same course where he tied for first place in October, he shot a 67 (-5), closing out round three and a dramatic finish with an overall mark of -1. He led the tournament in par-4 scoring, demonstrating an excellent feel for the course, and tallied 13 birdies.
William Sammons led the field with 35 pars and tied for 17th with teammate Nikolas Keratsopolous at +12. Parker Mitas, another freshman standout, placed 13th at +10, and Darian Ruiz and Harrison Jaeger finished 35th and 40th, respectively.
Both Baucum’s victory in the sudden-death playoff, and the history-making one-stroke difference for the team title put to rest any questions as to the strength of the ASC, which, like a number of other conferences composed of programs to the west of the Mississippi River, has struggled for national respect in past years.
“I believe our conference does not get the recognition it deserves nationally for the strength of team that we have,” Cox said, noting the intensity and competitiveness found in Granbury. “We greatly respect all of the teams whom we compete with in our conference.”
But it is likely that only one of those nine teams will still be playing on May 10, when the NCAA Tournament tees off. LeTourneau, Concordia and UT-Dallas, who all finished in the top four on Sunday have cases for an at-large bid, but those are hard to come by. The complete field for NCAAs will be announced today, on NCAA.com.
The Cru is looking to build on an 18th place finish at the national tournament a year ago. Incredibly, the five-man team that played in West Virginia included just two players-Sammons and Keratsopolous- from the group that captured the ASC title on Sunday. The ASC championship win was the team’s first since Feb. 28.