BRADENTON, Fla. -- Sunday was cut day at The Concession Golf Club. Fifteen of the 30 teams that came to the DI Men’s Golf Championships would be going home after the day’s rounds. The morning session pitted the bottom scoring 15 teams against each other.
The UCLA Bruins would seize the day and vault themselves into the top 10 heading into the afternoon session. A hole-in-one would put the exclamation point on their amazing 8-under day.
“I told them that you never know what’s going to happen out there,” UCLA coach Derek Freeman said on what he told his Bruins coming into Sunday. “People are going to feel the heat, teams are going to feel the heat, so it’s very important for us to establish where we are going to be. And if we do that, then we are going to have a good chance. I just wanted us to be very smart and precise about what we were doing, and the guys did that.”
Three Bruins finished under par on the day, while the team’s “worst” score was a mere two over. Junior Jonathan Garrick was asked to set the tone for the day.
“Obviously yesterday did not go very well for me,” Garrick said. “I was looking to get off to a good start and after I bogeyed 1 and 2, I was pretty disappointed.
"I still felt good about my game. I hit a really good shot on 3 and made eagle there. To get back to even that early was good. I stayed patient and hit a lot of good shots. I was proud of the way I hung in there after 2 because I could have let it go pretty far south after starting bogey, bogey.”
Garrick had been the Bruins’ leader all season. Despite his poor performance on Saturday, Freeman had little doubt that Garrick was still the man to lead off the most important day of the 2015 season thus far.
“I did feel a little bit of added pressure [in leading off the day] because I played very poorly yesterday and my teammates carried me through the day,” Garrick said. “What they did yesterday allowed me to play well today and allowed me to play a round that still meant something. I felt if I could go out and play a good round, I could help them out like they did for me yesterday.”
It was uncharacteristic for Garrick to have such a poor outing on Day 2, but he was playing like his normal self once again on Sunday. Was there a chip on his shoulder to show the rest of the field that he could handle this tough course?
“I didn’t necessarily feel a need to prove myself,” Garrick said in regards to yesterday’s 12 over. “It sounds cliché, but golf is a tough game and yesterday was kind of a fluke for me. I knew that if I came out here today and didn't try to force it that I could put up a good number. I definitely played like I was still a little ticked off from yesterday, and I think that helped a little bit.”
“There’s a reason why he’s our best player,” Freeman said of Garrick’s tone-setting performance. “He’s played well all year long. He’s been a great leader on the golf course.
"He had some unfortunate things happen to him yesterday, and he couldn’t quite get a handle on it. But he is a wonderful player when his back is against the wall. I didn’t expect anything less from him. He set the standard for what we were going to do and what we needed to do for the rest of the day.”
While Garrick was pacing the Bruins, Preston Valder was coming up the rear making sure that their turnaround would not get away from them. Already sitting at two under after birdying the 13th hole, Valder approached the 14th hole to tee off with his 5-iron. He wouldn’t need another club on the hole.
“It was 205, a perfect 5-iron,” Valder said. “I hit it pretty good, and it looked good the whole way. I think it took a hop or two and went into the hole.”
The hole-in-one pushed the Bruins to 9 under on the day. If there was any question whether the Bruins would lose focus down the home stretch, Valder’s ace removed any doubt.
“I’m just trying to make things as simple as possible and stick to our process,” Valder said. “We knew if we went out today and just played like us, we were going to be fine. We just tried to stick to what we have been doing all year and we have been waiting to see the results and we played well."
It wasn’t just a good day of golf for the Bruins. It was a gutsy day as their backs were against the wall. The No. 17 seed had two choices: win or go home.
“They have heart,” Freeman said of his team’s Day 3 performance. “They didn’t want to end this way. We have been challenged all year. These guys are just fighters, and I was proud of them. Our goal was to be the lowest round of the morning wave and add them up and see where we are. Who knows what’s going to happen this afternoon, but we played a very good round of golf. We played smart, we played solid, we took chances when we needed to and I’m just really proud of the guys today.”