Brad Shigezawa celebrates his win.
Claremont-Mudd-Scripps

DESTIN, Fla. -- Claremont Mudd Scripps junior Brad Shigezawa had adopted a hybrid sort of attitude entering the 2013 NCAA Division III Men’s Golf Championship.

His team was ranked 10th nationally, and although thinking team-first, he wondered whether a good season-to-date could become even more special.

“I know I had been playing well,” Shigezawa said. “I had a very, very successful spring season so I figured if anyone’s going to win, why not be me?”

He laughed as he said it, and could after Friday’s final championship round at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Club. Shigezawa ended with low medalist honors, winning the DIII individual title five strokes ahead of UT-Tyler’s Buddy Hallman.

Even though smiling while accepting handshakes and a trophy, he seemed to downplay what a significant personal accomplishment it is.

“I just played pretty consistently for these four days, it turns out,” Shigezawa said. “It just so happened that I found myself with a lead coming into Friday so it gave me a little breathing room. But it doesn’t really change much. This golf course, the way it sets up, you just have to hit good shots off the tee. There’s nothing you can do.”

According to Claremont head coach Bim Jollymour, Shigezawa can do a lot.

“His work ethic is unbelievably good,” Jollymour said. “It’s amazing to me. He’s a pre-med major and how he can balance his schoolwork with his golf and his social life is amazing. His time management is amazing, absolutely amazing. He’s a pretty special kid.”

Lounging with teammates and posing for impromptu photos with Jollymour following Friday’s awards ceremony, Shigezawa didn’t look so driven. He’s the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s Lee Fulmer Player of the Year and a biology major, so he knows how to prioritize. And, despite not having played previously at Sandestin, he tackled its Raven course with a workmanlike attitude.

All 41 teams in this year’s NCAA field played three rounds on the par-71 Raven, including the two final rounds. Shigezawa says there is no room for error there.

“You cannot be comfortable on this golf course,” he said. “I’m pretty sure every hole has trouble left and right off the tee. You just have to step up and hit good golf shots.”

His nemesis was the same that bested many other players and teams this week -- Raven No. 9 -- a long, narrow par-4 trimmed with water to the left. Shigezawa double-bogeyed it in Thursday’s third round and bogeyed it on Friday.

“For the three rounds we played on this course, I played the ninth hole 4-over par,” he said of Raven No. 9. “That speaks for itself. I thought I had it figured out. I thought had a pretty good strategy, but clearly did not.”

Outside of tussling with No. 9, Shigezawa was happiest with his rescue mission on the par-4 No. 15, similar to No. 9’s skinny treachery, but wider. Salvaging what could have been a costly blunder during Friday’s final round proved prophetic. 

“I actually hooked my tee shot into the water,” Shigezawa said. “I think the momentum of the round [was that] I saved par from the water. I’d taken a drop and I got up and down. So looking back, that kept my momentum up. I think I was three up at that time and to remain three up was big.”

Momentum came at the end of Thursday’s third round, when Shigezawa finished at the top of the individual leaderboard with a one-stroke advantage on Southwestern’s Cameron Button. He had finished the first and second rounds in the top 10 in individual competition, but opening Friday with one stroke in his pocket and adding to it with a steady final round, kept nerves and what-ifs at bay.

“I tried not to think about it for the majority of the round, but coming down the stretch, my coach fetched me the scores, and I think it’s good to know where you stand,” Shigezawa said. “But that wasn’t until 14 or 15.”

His four-day scores -- 72, 70, 69 and 72 for a 283 -- also helped power Claremont to a fifth-place finish in the team competition. The Stags finished fourth a year ago and their newly-crowned individual champion thinks the group will make a statement in next year’s tournament. Everyone who played at Sandestin will return -- two juniors, a sophomore and a freshman.

“I am very excited next year with the group of guys we have,” Shigezawa said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we made a run next year.”