Is it possible for a three-time All-American and former national champion to fly under the radar? That might be the case for Tain Lee at next week’s Division III Men’s Golf Championships.
The 2010 DIII medalist and 2011 runner-up picked up right where he left off to start the 2011-12 campaign, his final season of collegiate golf. Of the senior’s first six rounds three were sub-70.
|DIII MEN’S GOLF CHAMPIONSHIP|
|• Field announced|
|• Championship history|
But things took an unfortunate turn in January for Claremont-Mudd-Scripps’ top player. A wrist injury.
“It hasn’t been a great situation this year,” said Lee, a native of San Juan Capistrano, Calif. “I guess you could say I will be under the radar [next week]. People probably don’t necessarily know what’s been going on. They assume I’ve just been playing poorly or something else is going on.
“But that’s OK. I’m in a good frame of mind. I’m going to leave everything on the course.”
For almost the past month, Lee has been off the course.
“Everything was non-conclusive,” said Lee. “The biggest question was if I played could I do further damage? The biggest thing is just time; it is something that takes months to heal.”
“I don’t think we really thought he would be able to come back and play,” said CMS head coach Bim Jollymour. “It’s been really frustrating for him. To go from a three-time All-American, winning it two years ago and finishing second last year to what he has experienced this year, it’s just been tough for him.
“There is no extra pressure. I know he is excited to just be there with his teammates.”
Claremont-Mudd Scripps will be making its sixth NCAA championships appearance after getting an at-large selection. The April 25 Golf Coaches Association of American poll showed CMS ranked ninth, one of four Southern California Intercollegiate Conference members inside the top 15 (No. 5 Redlands, No. 10 LaVerne, No. 13 California Lutheran). LaVerne won the conference tournament to earn the automatic bid with Redlands and Cal Lutheran also getting at-large spots.
It will be the first time since that CMS has participated since 2006.
“We’ve had some good teams the last few years but did not get invited,” said Lee. “As a senior, this means a lot to me, a lot to my team. I don’t think they really expected me to play; coach didn’t expect me to play.
“I’ll have to get used to the pain. I will have to be smart about things, maybe not hit certain shots. There is more pain with the driver, more stress on the wrist, so I might have to change some things.”
As a freshman in 2009 Lee tied for eighth at DIII Championships. A year later he opened with a pair of 2-under-par 69s and never looked back, edging La Verne’s Mitchell Fedorka by three shots and Centre College’s Chris Morris by four strokes. At the 2011 Championships Lee was 8-under through two rounds. But Morris was 12-under and it was he who never looked back this time, taking medalist honors by four shots over Lee.
“[Tain] has had a pretty special career,” said Jollymour. “He’s an Academic All-American; just been a special part of this program.”
Anybody who follows golf knows rankings often mean little. Experience, course knowledge, weather, and often a bit of luck can all play a part in a solid round or two of golf.
The most consistent players in DIII this year?
Linfield senior Alex Fitch, who tied for 101st in 2011; LaGrange senior Hudson Keener, five shots behind Morris and third in 2011; and Transylvania senior Justin Tereshko, who tied for 82nd last May, have been among the best. Redlands sophomore Jeremy Sanders, who tied for fifth in 2011, is also expected to be in the field, as is senior Ben Nihart, a member of Greensboro’s championship squad last season.
Another solid player in 2011-12 has been Lee’s sophomore teammate Brad Shigezawa, who has averaged a solid 73.35 per round.
But none of them have what Lee has — an NCAA championship medal.
Only three players have won two or more titles in Division III since its inception in 1975. Methodist’s Chad Collins won back-to-back DIII titles in 1998 and 1999, and then finished his career with another title in 2001. Cal State Stanislaus’ Mike Bender won back-to-back medalist honors in 1979 and 1980. Methodist’s Ryan Jenkins won in 1993 and 1995.
“We will see what happens,” said Lee. “I’m just going to try and play the best I can under the circumstances.”