Clemson missed qualifying for the championship tournament last year, the first time in 24 years Clemson failed to advance to the tournament championship tournament. This was the first year Clemson competed in the Central Regional, as Clemson had always come out of the East Region prior to this year.
Clemson made the cut with three shots to spare today. The Tigers finished at 29 over par for the tournament, three shots ahead of Kentucky, who was the last team to qualify with an 884 score, 32 over par. Clemson missed the cut by just two shots last year at the East Regional in Nashville when it finished in 11th place.
"We started a new streak today," said Clemson Head Coach Larry Penley, who will take his 22nd Tiger team to the National Tournament in his 23 years as head coach. "I am very proud of this team because we not play in ideal conditions and they never got down. Sometimes you see that with young players, but our young players never hung their head."
Clemson brought two freshmen and a sophomore to join seniors Brian Duncan and Stephen Poole at the regional. Hatfield led or tied for the lead among Clemson golfers in all three rounds and his final total of 216 ranked 12th best in the field that included 141 players. Hatfield's performance was the best by a Clemson freshman since Richard Coughlan finished fourth at the 1994 NCAA East Regional at Grand National Lake in Opelika, AL. It was the best by any Clemson player since Brent Delahoussaye finished fourth at the 2004 East Regional at Yale.
Hatfield was Mr. consistency for the weekend as he never had a nine hole score over 37 and he recorded three consecutive scores of one over par 72 on the par 71 course that measures 7,173 yards in length. He had three birdies and four bogeys on Saturday and completed the tournament without a score worse than bogey for his 54 holes.
Hatfield got off to a tough start on Saturday with two bogeys in his first four holes. He then hit a second shot in the rough on the par five 14th hole, his fifth hole of the day. But, from 90 yards out and from thick rough, he put his third shot one foot from the hole and made a birdie. Hatfield played his last 12 holes in one under par, quite an accomplishment considering he was Clemson's final player and had the pressure that goes with it.
"Vince is a big time pressure player and he showed it today," said Penley. "He played very well as the final man today, and that did not surprise me."
The freshman from Greenwood had a big birdie on the fifth hole his 14th hole of the day when he drove the ball into a bunker some 300 yards off the tee. But he hit his bunker shot 12 feet from the pin, then made the birdie putt. His competitor from Texas made a bogey on the hole and two shot swing game Clemson momentum. Texas was one of the teams playing with the Tigers and the Longhorns were competing to make the cut. They came up two shots short, ending their season.
While Hatfield's play was important there were other stand out performers for the Tigers on Saturday. Tanner Ervin set the tone for the day when he played the first 12 holes at three under par. He had two double bogeys coming in, including one the seventh hole, his 16th hole of the day. But, he regained his composure and made par on the 8th and 9th holes, his 17th and 18th holes of the day to finish with a tournament best 72. He improved his score each day of the tournament (77-74-72).
Senior Brian Duncan had struggled in the first two rounds, but had a strong 73 on Saturday. The native of Greenville, SC was the only Tiger to birdie the 18th and 9th holes, his ninth and 18th holes of the day, respectivley. He made a five-foot birdie putt on the ninth hole, his final hole of the day, that gave Clemson some breathing room.
Stephen Poole had a 74 that included three birdies on the back nine, his first nine holes of the day. He finished with rounds of 73-74-74 for the three rounds and was Clemson's second best player behind Hatfield for the tournament. Poole will play in an US Open local qualifier in Atlanta on Monday.
David May got off to a good start with two birdies in the first two holes, but he finished with a 75 and his score did not count towards the Clemson team score. His score counted each of the first two rounds when he had scores of 74.
"I can't tell you how proud I am of this team," concluded Penley. "This was a difficult golf course. We showed improvement each day and really played well. We look forward to going to the national tournament in Oregon in a couple of weeks."
Clemson at NCAA Central Regional
Vince Hatfield 72-72-72 216 12th Stephen Poole 73-74-74 221 37th Tanner Ervin 77-74-72 223 53rd David May 74-74-75 223 53rd Brian Duncan 81-77-73 231 113th Clemson 296-294-291 881 8th