‘This is a big deal’
Florida Southern’s Crouch took tough road to individual title
HERSHEY, Pa. –- Three golfers, for all the marbles.
That’s what the 2013 NCAA Division II men’s individual golf championship came down to here Wednesday, and it was quite the sight to see. The trio -– out of the 108 who participated here at the Hershey Country Club this week -– were Tim Crouch of Florida Southern; South Carolina Aiken’s Matt Atkins; and Jake Webb of Western Washington.
Each was tied at two-under par after three days of stroke play, and so they headed back onto the course’s par-4 18th hole for the playoff. Atkins bogeyed the hole, dropping him out of contention after Crouch and Webb both shot even par.
Next came the 17th hole, also a par-4. Crouch again shot par and when Webb missed a putt that would’ve tied it up a third time, the title was Crouch’s.
Free and clear. The Moccasins went to the top of the team standings Wednesday and that gave the squad first seed going into the first day of match play for the overall DII team championship.
“This is a big deal,” said a relieved Crouch an hour or so after the playoff. “It means a whole lot not just to my family, but my program as well.”
Like countless kids across the country, Crouch grew up around the game. His parents, Tim and Cindy, own Hiawatha Golf Course in Mount Vernon, Ohio and the younger Tim spent many an hour on the public facility shagging balls and refining his game.
“I kind of did it the hard way, but I wouldn’t change a thing,” he continued. “Growing up, I didn’t really know any different. When I got really nice grass, I was afraid to take a divot out at first because it was so nice.”
As his amateur career progressed, Crouch became more comfortable on bigger stages. He won the Ohio Junior Championship in 2006 and was twice a winner of the Ohio Junior Publinx Championship. Last year, he made it to the U.S. Amateur Golf Championship and finished 82nd.
The opportunity to play at Florida Southern was simply too good to pass up.
“What brought me down to that part of the world was just the golf, the sunshine and the warm weather,” he said of the school located in Lakeland. “This Hiawatha boy was getting out of the cold weather for the winter, and that’s really helped my game getting to play all year round and on different grass, as well.”
Here in Hershey, Crouch shot even par Monday and Tuesday to put himself in position for the individual title. There were some jitters as he teed off Wednesday, but none that he couldn’t handle.
Once he got some holes under his belt, his momentum was building toward the finale.
“At the beginning, I was nervous –- I’m not going to lie. I was nervous,” Crouch continued. “I just wanted to stay patient. I didn’t want to try to force anything, but as the tournament went on, I made a birdie on nine. I looked at the scoreboard just to see where I stood, and I was only, I think, three back.
“I knew if I could put up a decent back-nine score, I could have a chance to win. Coach [Doug Gordin] is really good helping me stay in the moment. We try to take it shot by shot, just baby steps. The rest will take care of itself.”
Once Crouch, Webb and Atkins wound up tied after three full rounds of golf, it came down to a deciding two holes.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Crouch said. “I just wanted to get up to the first tee, hit a good shot and go from there. After I put myself in great position, I knew I had the upper hand. I just wanted to take care of my own business. That’s all I can take care of.”
Webb shot a sizzling tournament-best 65 on Wednesday, a full 10 shots better than his score from the day before. Yet when he missed that fateful put on the 17th hole – and the second of the playoff – the moment was Crouch’s.
“Right after he missed that putt on the playoff hole, my teammates came up to me and all gave me hugs,” Crouch remembered. “It started to set in right then. I started crying on the 17th green. I gave my parents hugs and just let it all out. It feels good.”
It should feel good. Crouch is a champion.