Golf: Cajuns rebound from loss with a vengeance to win first championship since 2013
Dan McDonald, The Advertiser, March 28, 2018
The Ragin’ Cajuns had finished dead last, 15th in a 15-team field, in the Lone Star Invitational, nine shots behind the 14th-place Southern Mississippi team, and 85 shots behind tournament champion Oklahoma. No Cajun finished in the top 60 individually, and freshman Peter Hinnant’s team-best score was a 14-over-par 230 for three rounds.
“They had two choices,” said UL golf coach Theo Sliman. “They could have sulked and felt sorry for themselves, or they could pick themselves up and get themselves more ready. San Antonio hurt them pretty good, and it needed to. And they responded.”
"Responded" would be putting it mildly.
Fast forward to Tuesday afternoon, and UL was raising the team trophy at the Lake Charles Invitational held at the Country Club at the Golden Nugget course. An added bonus: Lafayette sophomore Jack Tolson was sporting the individual trophy, having posted the lowest score by a UL player in at least a quarter-century.
The UL squad, whose best finish this year was a sixth-place in a 13-team field in the Louisville Cardinal Challenge in September, posted the low rounds in both Monday’s second round and Tuesday’s final trip around the 6,859-yard par-72 Golden Nugget course. Their 286-283-281—850 total was good enough for a stunning 12-stroke win over runner-up and nationally 39th-ranked Marquette.
“I’ve been saying from day one, I wasn’t going to label this team as youthful, but the majority of them are underclassmen,” said Sliman, whose team hadn’t won a championship since winning the Sam Hall Intercollegiate in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, early in the 2013-14 season. “I knew we’d probably play up-and-down this year. Our good has been good and our bad has been bad, but they put together three great rounds the last two days.”
The Cajuns were four back of front-running Lamar after the opening two-under-par 286 Monday morning and were in third place, but took over the lead during Monday’s afternoon round, when they had a season-low five-under-par 283 score. As a team, UL recorded 31 birdies on the first day, and its 569 score gave the team a five-stroke lead over the 11-team field.
They were just warming up, though. Tuesday’s seven-under 281 score let them build a double-figure stroke margin, and even the tough end to the Golden Nugget’s back nine was not enough to cut into that lead.
“The Marquette coach (Steve Bailey) said it best,” Sliman said. “This course has a very difficult stretch, the last five holes, and coming down the stretch today they didn’t lose poise or focus. They were extremely determined on a very difficult stretch. We stress all the time to win the last six, and today was the epitome of that.”
Tolson’s performance was the most impressive. The former state prep champion at Westminster Christian opened with 67-66 rounds on Monday and added a 68 in Tuesday’s final round. His 15-under-par 201 score was the lowest recorded by a Cajun since at least the 1993-94 season, and Sliman believed it was the lowest in school history over three rounds.
“I sensed it in his practice round, he was pretty focused and determined,” Sliman said. “But in this difficult wind and on this course, to post 15-under is remarkable. He made 19 birdies this week on a very difficult course.
“His final-round scoring average is right around 69 this year, but he hasn’t gotten out of the gates well. His first rounds he’s struggled, but he’s had brilliant final rounds in almost every tournament.”
Freshman Bjorn Gudjonsson of Mosfellsbaer, Iceland, was right behind, finishing in third place with a 71-69-68—208 score behind individual runner-up Logan Davis of Texas State (205).
“For Bjorn to post back-to-back career low scores at a very early point in his career, that’s extremely promising for the future,” Sliman said. “Hopefully what this does for him is set his expectations higher than they have been.”
Another freshman, Peter Hinnant, finished 20th with a consistent two-over 218 score (73-72-73), and junior Triston Elston — one of only two upperclassmen on the roster — battled back from a 75-76 opening day with an even-par 72 Tuesday.
“Triston was bummed with his first 36 holes,” Sliman said, “but we needed him today. We told him last night that we needed him, and he stepped up. We wouldn’t have won without what he and Peter did.”
The stunning last-to-first performance gave Sliman hope for the brief remainder of the season. The Cajuns will play two match-play matches in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on Saturday and will compete in the Old Waverly Collegiate hosted by Mississippi State on April 16-17.
That will be followed by a Sun Belt Conference Championships April 22-24 in Sandestin, Florida, that suddenly becomes more than a season finale.
“They learned they’re not different golfers from last week,” Sliman said. “They didn’t just get a gene this week that gave them golf ability. They’re the same golfers, but they were different with their minds and their focus. That’s what I’m most proud of. The key moving forward is to learn from this and apply it and bring that same grit and competitiveness every week.”
Lake Charles Invitational
Monday-Tuesday at The Country Club at the Golden Nugget (6,869 yards, par 72), Lake Charles
1 Louisiana 286-283-281 – 850 -14
2 Marquette 290-284-288 – 862 -2
3 Stephen F. Austin 289-288-293 – 870 6
4 Lamar 282-292-297 – 871 7
5 Texas State 285-293-296 – 874 10
6 Missouri State 288-303-285 – 876 12
7 Southern Miss 293-295-293 – 881 17
7 McNeese State 302-295-284 – 881 17
9 Nicholls State 298-299-292 – 889 25
10 Southeastern La. 299-303-296 – 898 34
11 New Orleans 311-295-293 – 899 35
INDIVIDUAL TOP 20
1 Jack Tolson, UL 67-66-68 – 201 -15
2 Logan Davis, Texas State 69-66-70 – 205 -11
3 Bjorn Gudjonsson, UL 71-69-68 – 208 -8
4 Cody Banach, Lamar 67-71-73 – 211 -5
4 Hunter Eichhorn, Marquette 71-69-71 – 211 -5
6 Matt Murlick, Marquette 75-66-71 – 212 -4
7 Pryce Beshoory, Houston 70-74-69 – 213 -3
7 Sutton Farmer, McNeese 74-72-67 – 213 -3
7 Adam Fisher, Missouri State 70-72-71 – 213 -3
7 Jack Lee, Nicholls 74-73-66 – 213 -3
7 Andy Lopez, S.F. Austin 72-70-71 – 213 -3
OTHER UL SCORES
20 Peter Hinnant 73-72-73 -- 218 2
T31 Triston Elston 75-76-72 – 223 7
56 Justin Caldwell 79-76-77 – 232 16