KISSIMMEE, FL – Going into the final round of the NCAA Division II Men's Golf Championships, 4th-ranked Florida Southern was 18 shots in the clear to advance to the match play portion of the tournament, but the Moccasins weren't content with just getting there. By shooting a 291 under tough conditions at Reunion Resort, the Moccasins moved up two spots in the final standings of stroke play to finish second and earn the No. 2 seed for match play where they will face No. 7 seed Ferris State (MI) on Thursday morning at 8:20, beginning on hole one.
Leading Florida Southern throughout the first three days was junior John Coultas, who finished as the individual runner-up with an even-par 210, putting him just one stroke behind West Florida's Chandler Blanchet, who started the day two strokes behind. Following fourth-place finishes as a freshman and sophomore, Coultas has now become just the third player in team history to place in the top-five of three NCAA National Championships, either consecutively or overall. He joins Lee Janzen, who did that three years in a row from 1984-86, and Rodney Butcher, who also did it three years in a row from 1990-92. Janzen won the national title as a senior after finishing fourth as a sophomore and second as a junior.
One look at the weather report and wind gauge Wednesday morning gave the teams a preview of what they could expect once they were on the course. With rain in the afternoon forecast, the NCAA had changed the schedule format to a 9 a.m. shotgun start in order to hopefully finish ahead of anything that might reduce the stroke play portion of the tournament to two rounds. The move was successful, but the 108 golfers still had to deal with winds that exceeded 25 miles per hour by mid-morning.
As a result, the third-round scores were dramatically higher than the first two rounds, and Florida Southern's 291 was bettered by only two other teams on Wednesday: Arkansas Tech with a 289, and 2nd-ranked Lynn with a 290. Arkansas Tech's score was especially noteworthy as it moved the Wonder Boys all the way up from 15th and into one of the eight quarterfinal spots.
The weather was a factor for Florida Southern just as it was for every other team, but the Moccasins seemed to do a better job of handling it. Halfway through the day, the Mocs were at +4, which pushed Florida Southern ahead of both 6th-ranked Florida Tech and top-ranked West Florida by the time every team's golfer had played at least 10 holes. The Mocs stayed there too and eventually finished just three shots behind 3rd-ranked Barry, which had a 298 and won stroke play with an overall score of 850 (+10).
Though Coultas had the team's best score overall, the Mocs were led on Wednesday by John VanDerLaan, who carded an even-par 70 to finish tied for 15th with a 214 (+4) overall. After starting his round with back-to-back bogeys, he picked up four birdies and fought his way back through the worst of the weather and had his second straight 70. He finished with eight straight birdies or pars.
Christian Anderson carded a 73 and was the Mocs' ace through the first nine holes at even-par. On the heels of back-to-back 71s from the first two days, Anderson had a total score of 215 (+5), which tied him for 17th. The +5 was his best score since going three-over on the same course at Reunion Resort during the DII National Preview last October.
Michael VanDerLaan and Chase Ibbotson each shot a 74 Wednesday, and VanDerLaan led the team in birdies with five. All of them came after he bogeyed five of his first six holes before playing the final 12 at one-under. His total score of 216 (+6) tied him for 20th, giving the Moccasins and head coach Doug Gordin four top-20 golfers at the National Finals for the first time since 2000. That year it was Jeff Klauk, Alex Renard, Zoran Ilic and Wayne Raath as the Mocs won the national title. Ibbotson's 74 was the best round of the tournament for the Mocs' lone freshman and gave him a 225 (+15) overall. He moved up 19 spots in the final day to tie for 57th.
Even though Coultas was the national runner-up, his score of 76 was not counted on Wednesday. He started the day with a one-stroke lead over Barry's Niclas Weiland and a two-stroke lead over three other golfers, including Blanchet, and the race with Weiland was tight all day. Playing in the same group with Blanchet and Weiland, Coultas actually increased his lead over Blanchet to as many as five strokes and led by three with three holes remaining. But after playing the first 15 holes with 14 pars, back-to-back double-bogeys on 16 and 17 flipped the score in favor of Blanchet, who parred those holes. Both players then parred No. 18, giving Blanchet a one-shot win.
Weiland ended up tied for third with John Clare of Le Moyne (NY), and Trevor Lampson of California Baptist with scores of 211 (+1). Four other golfers tied for sixth with scores of 212 (+2).
In addition to Florida Southern's match against Ferris State, Thursday's quarterfinals will also see top seed Barry taking on No. 8 seed Arkansas Tech at 7:30 off hole one; No. 4 seed Lynn taking on No. 5 seed Florida Tech, also at 7:30, but starting on hole 10; and No. 3 seed West Florida facing No. 6 seed Newberry (SC) at 8:20 beginning on hole 10.
The national semifinals will follow immediately after the quarterfinals, with the Moccasins potentially facing either West Florida or Newberry at 2:20.
Six of the eight teams in this year's quarterfinals came from the South/Southeast Region. Florida Tech, Ferris State and Arkansas Tech will all be making their first appearance in the quarterfinals since Division II adopted that format in 2011. The Moccasins will be there for the fourth time and advanced to last year's semifinal round.