Wednesday, May 24, 2017 | by Randall Stewart, Director of Athletic Communications
KISSIMMEE, Fla. – For the second time in history, Newberry will advance to the match play portion of the NCAA Division II National Championships and finish among the nation's top five schools by virtue of a sixth-place finish in the stroke play portion of the championship.
"What a great day for the Wolves," remarked head coach Howard Vroon. "Facing winds of 20 to 30 miles per hour made the course was extremely challenging today. We struggled early, then dug in and played our game. We are thrilled to be competing in the match play portion of the National Championship."
Newberry shot 19 over as a team on a day when the course was made impossibly difficult by wildly fluctuating weather conditions and wind so strong that it blew a ball from Harry Bolton off the green as he approached a putt. The best team score of the day was a nine-over 289, with 12 teams shooting 20 or more strokes over par.
Newberry's grip on a berth into the quarterfinals was tenuous as the day went on, with the Wolves at one point falling into a tie for eighth. But Newberry stepped up over the final two hours of the round as other teams fell out of contention, finishing eight strokes clear of ninth-place North Alabama.
While the conditions wreaked havoc with the majority of the field, Carlos Leandro was up to the task. He closed out the tournament with his best performance, firing an even-par 70 to move up 13 spots on the leaderboard into a five-way tie for 10th, the highest individual finish at a national championship in school history.
Evan DeGrazia had the second-best day among the Newberry contributors with his five-over 75, landing him one stroke outside the top 20 at seven over for the tournament. His 23rd-place performance is Newberry's second-best in a national championship behind Leandro.
Spencer Skiff's six-over and Ben Thompson's eight-over contributed to Newberry's team score Wednesday, while Bolton finished a stroke shy of Thompson. DeGrazia, Bolton (tied for 40th), and Skiff (tied for 45th) gave the Wolves four scorers inside the top 45.
Seven of the 20 teams in the NCAA Championships advanced from the South/Southeast Regional. Six of those teams earned a berth into match play, with ninth-place North Alabama falling one stroke shy of Arkansas Tech and two back of Ferris State. The top six finishers in stroke play represented the top six in the South/Southeast Regional, albeit with only Newberry and second-place Florida Southern finishing in the same slot.
The sixth-seeded Wolves, ranked No. 7 nationally, will square off against No. 3 seed and top-ranked West Florida on the 10th tee Thursday at 8:20 a.m. The Argonauts boast Chandler Blanchet, the individual national champion and top-ranked player at any level of two- or four-year collegiate golf.
The winner between Newberry and the West Florida will square off against either second-seeded Florida Southern or No. 7 seed Ferris State at 2:20 p.m. for the right to play in Friday's national finals.
"This is an impressive team," Vroon said, "and they continue to accomplish some amazing things. West Florida is an outstanding team and will be a tremendous challenge for us. We are looking forward to tomorrow."
By advancing into match play, Newberry is guaranteed to finish in at least a tie for fifth, which would equal the South Atlantic Conference record for best finish in a national championship set by Newberry in 2011.
Newberry has three of the SAC's five all-time appearances in the Division II Men's Golf Championships, is the only team to advance into match play in the tournament's current format, and is the only team to finish higher than 10th in the final standings.