KISSIMMEE – The Bulls pulled away from the pack down the stretch to win their first-ever Big East Men’s Golf Championship on Tuesday afternoon at the Reunion Resort.
USF combined to go 7 under on the back nine and finished at 6 under, four shots ahead of St. John’s. The Bulls were tied for the lead through 15 holes before seizing the program’s fifth Big East tournament title overall and the conference's automatic bid to NCAA Regionals. The win also marks the USF men’s golf team’s 12th conference championship after finishing tops in the Sun Belt from 1979-1989.
“That’s what champions do. The best teams separate themselves and these guys did such an unbelievable job of stepping up at the right time,” head coach Chris Malloy said.
Freshman Chase Koepka finished second individually, only one stroke behind Cincinnati’s David Tepe at 7 under. Koepka started the tournament with consecutive rounds of 70 and closed with a 3-under 69 in his fifth top-10 finish of the season.
“I’ve been playing my best golf this semester and I keep raising the bar almost every tournament,” he said. “It was great to come out this week and do what I needed to do. It was a special week with all these guys.”
Junior Richard James played a big hand in USF’s stellar finish by carding a 68 and collecting four birdies on the back nine - three in a row on holes 14 through 16 - to finish in a tie for 11th place with teammate Trey Valentine at 2 over. USF started the day with a two-stroke lead and James said the team’s ability to remain cool under pressure paid dividends in crunch time.
“I think the biggest key was patience this week. You can’t really force things because then it goes wrong,” James said. “You could see a couple of teams try to force it coming in instead of letting things happen.”
Devin Hernandez, the team’s No. 5 player, stepped up with a 69 in the final round and jumped all the way up to 18th place at 4 over. The senior birdied three out of his final five holes of an event he didn’t know he’d be playing in until last week.
“I was actually kind of nervous to be out here and I wasn’t expecting to play really,” he said. “(Down the stretch) I knew this was my time. I’ve waited four years for this and I’m not going to let this go by.”
Malloy’s squad joined the 2007 USF women’s tennis team, the 2008 men’s soccer team, the 2009 men’s tennis team and the 2012 women’s golf team as Big East tournament champions.
“This is what we’ve talked about. To finally do it and have proof of it with that trophy in your hands is unbelievable, especially with the way we finished. It makes it even that much sweeter,” Malloy said.
USF now waits to find out what its travel plans will be for the NCAA Regionals that take place in six locations May 16-18 with a possible destination being the Golden Eagle Golf & Country Club in Tallahassee. The NCAA Men’s Golf Championships begin May 28 at the Capital City Club Crabapple Course in Atlanta.