May 14, 2010

By Todd Karpovich, Special to NCAA.com

HERSHEY, Pa. -- St. John's of Minnesota has to practice indoors for five or six months because of weather conditions there are more suitable for football than for golf.

Nonetheless, the Johnnies won the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and got an automatic bid to this year's NCAA Division III men's golf championships at the Hershey Links and Hershey Country Club.

St. John's has been one of the most dominant programs in the past several years, winning back-to-back national championships in 2007 and 2008. This was the Johnnies 11th consecutive appearance at nationals.

St. John's finished the four-day tournament in fourth place with an overall score of 1,191. The Johnnies have finished in the top 10 for the ninth time in the past 11 years, second-best in all of Division III behind national champion Methodist.

"I'm so proud of the way our kids played," said coach Bob Alpers, the 2010 MIAC Coach of the Year. "We're so young. We graduated four of the five who carried us through those two national championships. They did a great job. We have really good kids."

Despite starting in fifth place on the final day, St. John's was not discouraged because the program has a history of remarkable comebacks. In the 2008 national championship, the Johnnies came back from an eight-stroke deficit in the final round to win by three strokes.

The Johnnies have been led by Tony Krogen, the 2009-10 MIAC Player of the Year after setting a conference tournament record with a 3-under par 213 in the fall. A St. John's student-athlete has won MIAC Player of the Year honors each of the past 10 seasons.

"This year, we had some unseasonably warm weather and we've been outside since March," Alpers said. "It felt like we moved to Missouri."

TALE OF TWO COURSES: Despite rain and overcast skies for much of the week, coaches from the participating schools had solid reviews for both the Hershey Links and Hershey Country Club East courses over the four day tournament.

However, the Country Club's East course was the much more challenging of the two courses during the week, and many golfers had to make up ground at the Links after struggling at the East course. Overall, the average score on the East course was 81.96, compared to 78.81 on the Links.

"When we played here in the fall, we actually scored worse [at the Links]," Methodist coach Steve Conley said about the Country Club course. "We shot a 295 here and a 289 on the East Course. The biggest difference was the East course's greens were more receptive in the fall and now they are really firm. It just made all of the difference in the world in being able to attack the golf course."

During the week, coaches urged their players to make adjustments to the courses. The final two rounds were played strictly at the Links course, much to the delight of the teams.

"If you have hit good shot on the Links course, you get rewarded for it. On the other one, that is not always the case," Huntingdon coach Matt Mahanic said.

Guilford, which started the final day in third place, 11 strokes behind Methodist, was hoping to take advantage of some intricacies of the Links course to make up some ground. The Quakers played well on the final day, shooting minus-5 at 283 on the day, but it was still not enough to overtake the Monarchs.

"This course, you get a lot of short irons and you can make a lot of birdies," Guilford coach Korky Kemp said.

WITTENBERG'S MILLICE HONORED: Jordan Millice, who finished with an overall score of 315, was the Elite 88 award-winner for the top GPA at the NCAA Division III Tournament. Millice, who was presented the award during a banquet at this week's championship, has a 3.94 grade point average. He also had a first-place finish in the Wittenberg Spring Invitational, which included a second-round 68 - the second-lowest round in school history.