West Lafayette, Ind.--Tied for fifth and the final qualifying spot heading into the third and final day of play at the NCAA West Lafayette Men's Golf Regional, the Auburn Tigers put together a very solid round to qualify and advance to the NCAA Championships on May 26-31 at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill. Firing a round of eight-over-par on Wednesday, Coach Nick Clinard's team finished second to easily earn a spot in the championship field.
"It was a lot of fun," Clinard told Inside the Auburn Tigers. "The guys went out and competed today. We got off to a great start and had all five guys in it through the first nine holes and then the wind really started to blow on that back side.
"Obviously, we're a little disappointed, we dropped some shots coming down the stretch, but there were some very difficult holes and we just hit some bad shots at the wrong time."
UNLV was the top qualifier in the regional, finishing the three days at +8 as a team. Auburn was three shots behind with Illinois next at +14. Rounding out the five qualifiers for nationals were New Mexico (+16) and host Purdue (+18). Ranked fifth in the country, Florida stumbled to a final round of (+24) to fall out of contention on Wednesday.
Leading the way for the Tigers was Matt Gilchrest. Firing rounds of 74 and 70 the first two days, Gilchrest bogeyed the second hole, but after that he played spectacular golf. Birdies on the par-5 fourth and the sixth hole put him at one-under par at the turn, but he wasn't done. Back-to-back birdies on 10 and 11 moved him to minus three for the day and when he added his fifth birdie of the day on the 15th hole he stood at -4 and tied for the individual lead. Giving one back on the tough par 5 16th and another on 18, Gilchrest finished with a 70 on a very tough day on the course and tied for third individually.
Tied with Florida and Purdue at +5 entering Wednesday's final round, Auburn got quality play from Ryan Benton to get the Tigers off to a good start. Stumbling out of the gate on Monday with an 83, Benton came back with a 75 on Tuesday to set himself up well for Wednesday. Out first for Auburn, Benton was -3 through eight holes and finished with an even par 72 on a very tough day on the Kampen Course with winds blowing to upwards of 40 MPH.
Coming back from a rough 82 on Tuesday, Trace Crowe fired a solid round of 75 on the day for the Tigers. Jacob Solomon's 79 was the fourth scoring round for Auburn on Wednesday with Jovan Rebula struggling down the stretch for a back nine 44 to finish with a final round 81 after making the turn at one-over par.
It was the start by all five Auburn players that made the difference for the Tigers on day three of the regional. Making the turn at two-under par as a team, Clinard said that was a must with the difficulty facing the players on the back nine where six of the nine holes played over par.
"It was huge," Clinard said. "It was everything just to give yourself a little bit of a cushion with basically that four or five-hole stretch coming down at the end. We knew we were in good shape there at the end because the teams coming in behind us were going to make some mistakes as well. It was just too hard. There was no way to get five guys to make a bunch of pars on those holes."
Pictured left to right following Wednesday's final round are Associate Head Coach Corey Maggard, Ryan Benton, Jacob Solomon, Head Coach Nick Clinard, Trace Crowe, Matt Gilchrest and Jovan Rebula.
Finishing second means a sixth consecutive trip to the NCAA Championships for the Auburn Tigers under Clinard. He said despite some ups and downs this team has shown a lot of resiliency this season and that showed on Wednesday.
"I tell you what, they're a great group of kids and they've been a lot of fun to coach," Clinard said. "We've been a little bit inconsistent this spring, but we've won four times and have been ranked in the Top 20 in the country all year long. I'm really proud of them. Six years in a row to make it to nationals, that means you're one of the elite programs in the country."