BRADENTON, Fla. -- It was an exciting day at The Concession Golf Club on Monday. The field of 30 teams was first cut to 15 this morning and by day’s end, there were a mere eight heading into match play to decide the 2015 national champion. Before they can settle that, however, it was time to crown the newest individual men’s golf national champion.
It took all 72 holes of stroke play in the grueling inferno of Bradenton, Florida to crown the 2015 individual champ. Earlier Monday morning, Washington and SMU would go to a playoff to decide the final team to enter Monday’s round of 15. Washington’s Cheng-Tsung Pan and SMU’s Bryson Dechambeau would battle to the final hole to declare the newest individual champ.
“I knew that I was good enough to contend for a national championship, but I didn’t believe it last year,” Dechambeau said. “There were a few times I doubted myself because of it.
"I knew I could win a title after last year after coming so close, making a double on 16 and losing by a couple. I knew coming into this week that I would I have a chance. Last year was a great stepping stone in believing that my game was up there.”
On a day that cameramen and commentators were everywhere on the course, the focus quickly became Dechambeau’s score. What made it more special for him was he was able to do it all with his teammates beside him.
“It was great to get the team into the top 15,” Dechambeau said of winning the playoff hole. “We’re a great team, we could have played better on the second day and had more momentum going into today. We played great the third day. They did an awesome job and I’m so proud of them for this year.”
Dechambeau was in command of his destiny from Day 1 of the tournament. He came out with a 2-under on Friday, a 5-under on Saturday and played even on Sunday to come in as the leader on Monday. With Dechambeau’s day complete, sitting at 8-under, Pan began to make his run.
“When he made birdie on 17 I knew he was going to have a very good chance of making birdie on the last hole,” Dechambeau said of Pan. “He’s a great competitor, my hats off to him. He’s an unbelievable player.”
Earlier in the day, Pan’s Huskies and Dechambeau’s Mustangs would battle for the final slot in team competition. Washington lost, and Pan would come out and bogey the first two holes to start his final round. He would go on to play clean golf, birdying three in a row to close the front nine and would go on to record seven birdies on the day.
“It was hard,” Pan said of his slow start after losing the playoff to SMU. “My first two holes I was moody, my mentality was not tough. I was upset that we were defeated and I did not do my part. My mind was wandering and I wasn’t focused on the golf.
"But that birdie on three pulled me back. After that I felt really good.”
Pan brought the crowd to its feet when he nearly chipped out of the sand into the 18th hole. The crowd roared, but the shot -- and Pan’s chances at the title -- just missed.
“It was a good shot,” Pan said of his last chance. “It was the best chance I had for that shot.”
It was the last round of the collegiate superstar’s illustrious career. Pan -- the No. 4 seeded golfer in the field -- experienced the full range of emotions in a long day. From an early morning playoff, to nearly forcing a playoff for the championship, Pan had no regrets.
“It’s up and down,” Pan said of his final collegiate performance. "I really enjoyed the way I played. I am very satisfied with the way I finished and that I played aggresively. I’m very happy with my final round of my amateur career. It’s a great way to finish.”
Monday was an odd day on the golf course for both Pan and Dechambeau. Both had to be on the course early to finish the playoff hole. There was a rain delay that lasted about an hour. The weather -- unlike the past three days which the golfers only had the soaring heat temperatures to deal with -- was more like a rain forest, experiencing high heats, muggy humidity and on and off showers all day. Needless to say, it was no walk in the park for Dechambeau or the rest of the field.
He had some rough holes. He barely missed a putt on hole 11 for par, and answered back with an eagle on the par-4 12th hole. He would again lip out on the 7th hole for par, and come back for the birdie. He doesn’t get easily rattled; he simply trusts in himself.
“It’s not about anger, it’s about trust,” Dechambeau said. “I know putts are going to fall my way, I know I’m going to hit good shots. It’s about being in the moment, trusting yourself and being able to execute that shot when the time comes.”
As if the chase for an individual champion wasn’t exciting enough, the final eight teams were decided. Surrounded by the nation’s top 10 teams, Georgia sits atop the leaderboard in third place. The Bulldogs' amazing run began on Day 1 and they never slipped out of the top three the entire tournament.
“We’ve taken care of all the stages so far we had to take care of and made it to match play,” Georgia head coach Chris Haack said. “That’s the goal. Now anything can happen.
"They’re playing well. The golf course sets up pretty well for them. You can’t play afraid on this golf course, you just got to go out their and hit it. To their credit they have done a great job at that.”
Georgia has done it behind solid team play. Lee McCoy -- the fifth-ranked golfer in the championships -- had a tough few first rounds, but Mookie DeMoss and Zach Healy have played remarkably well and were able to pick the team up. All five golfers have played great golf throughout the tournament, and through it all, they have been having fun.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, and I have been in the heat of these battles for a long time," Haack said. “One thing I learned is that you can’t have these guys uptight. They almost have to have a don't care attitude. I’ve come into this tournament with the best teams a lot of times and we were sent home. It’s hard playing when your expectations are so high. We’ve tried to lower the expectations and just say, ‘Hey, it’s just golf, go play, and we’ll figure out it out at the end.’ They’ve done a very good job of doing that.”