SIMPSONVILLE, Ky. — Brenda Creel pleaded with her son to smile for a photo surrounded by his beaming Central Oklahoma teammates.
“Mom, this is my smile,” Josh Creel replied, a scorer’s pencil-thin grin creasing his face.
There were three things working against Creel going all “Happy Gilmore” (his favorite sports movie) after capturing the NCAA Division II individual championship Thursday:
1. Overt displays of emotion are not his style.
2. The magnitude of what he’d just achieved hadn’t hit him yet.
3. There’s another bigger NCAA trophy that Creel and his UCO teammates came here for, and it’s still sitting in the lobby of the Cardinal Club clubhouse.
“I’ll celebrate next week,” Creel said.
|DII MEN’S GOLF CHAMPIONSHIP|
|Day Three: Wildcats hold on to lead|
|Day Two: Chico State takes lead|
|Day One: Central Oklahoma sits in first|
|Leaderboard: Team | Individual|
|• Field announced|
|• Championship history|
The overriding goal coming here this week for Creel and Central Oklahoma was to play well enough to qualify for one of the eight match-play slots that will decide the Division II team championship over the next two days.
Primary mission accomplished. Led by Creel’s three-day total of 10-under par 206, the Bronchos compiled a total score of 8-under 856 to finish third behind Chico State (851) and Nova Southeastern (855). UCO will face off in team match play with No. 6-seeded Barry in Friday morning’s quarterfinals. Semifinals will follow immediately afterward.
A year ago, the Bronchos qualified for the quarterfinals but were eliminated 3-2 by Central Missouri despite the fact that Creel and teammate Baer Aneshansley won their matches by a combined 12 strokes. UCO lost the other three matches in a championship that came a week after the sudden resignation of long-time coach Dax Johnston.
“The 2011 season and the early part of 2012 have been rough,” Creel said. “I struggled all of 2011. I didn’t win. But I started basing my practices on peaking at this time of year and it worked out.”
For a long time Thursday it didn’t appear that Creel would win this championship, either.
Starting the day with a one-stroke lead ahead of Chico State’s Eric Frazzetta, Creel made the turn in even par after a couple of bogies and an eagle 2 on the short par-4 sixth.
Meanwhile, Colorado Mines’ Jim Knous came home with a 69 to finish at 206, then spent hours hoping to hang on to the clubhouse lead.
It appeared he would after Creel bogeyed the par-4 14th to fall two strokes back with four to play. But he stuck an iron shot to four feet on the 206-yard, par-3 16th, hit the par-5 17th in two and two-putted for birdie, then negotiated a tough up and down from short of the green on the 470-yard, par-4 18th.
Creel and first-year UCO coach Pat Bates were grinding for several minutes over the line on the 5-foot putt before the junior from Cheyenne, Wyo., stepped up and dropped it.
“We were trying to find something in it. We picked right center and it was perfect,” Creel said, a putt that did produce an emphatic fist pump.
Creel and Knous replayed the 18th in a sudden-death playoff for the title. Knous’ drive leaked into the left rough, leaving him with flyer lie for his second shot that sent the ball rocketing onto the green but about 80 feet past the hole. Creel went left center in the fairway then found the green about 30 feet past the hole on the right.
Knous’ first putt down the two-tiered slope came up about 8 feet short and left. After Creel eased his putt to within a foot for a certain par, Knous’ par attempt slid by on the right. All there was left was for Creel to tap in and capture his prize.
“I told him when were driving to the tee [for the playoff], ‘I’d love to give you some words of wisdom, but what you have inside can’t be taught,’” said Bates, a former PGA touring pro and five-time winner on the Nationwide Tour.
“He just has a lot of guts. He’s got a great work ethic and just loves to compete.”
Creel becomes UCO’s first individual champion since Johnston won the title in 1996. The two spoke by phone before Thursday’s round.
“He told me to stay patient the whole round and I did. I’ll probably go give him a call now,” Creel said.
UCO has never won the Division II team title.
“I don’t think there’s another team that wants it as bad as we do after what happened last year,” Creel said. “We’re focused and prepared to play.”
Maybe if the Bronchos win on Saturday, Creel will dig into his golf bag and find a smile for his mom.