May 27, 2012
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. - Lamar University will look to cap off a highly successful 2011-12 men's golf season with a strong showing at the NCAA Championship this week from historic Riviera Country Club.
The 30-team tournament will get underway Tuesday on the par-71, 7,292-yard George Thomas-designed layout. Lamar earned its sixth ever trip to the NCAA Championship by placing fourth at the Greensboro Regional as the top five teams from each of the six regionals qualified.
The Cardinals' last trip to the NCAA Championship came in 2007 when they tied for third in the country after making a charge on the final day of competition. Lamar also tied for ninth in 2006, finished seventh in 1986, tied for 18th in 1985 and placed 21st in 1983.
All 30 teams will play three rounds of stroke play over three days with the individual champion being determined at that point. Following the final round Thursday, the top eight teams will then move on to match play with the national champion being determined Sunday.
For the first two days, the Cardinals will be paired with Virginia Tech and Tulsa. There is history between Lamar and both schools. The Cardinals defeated Tulsa by one stroke this year in Greensboro, and Lamar faced the host Hokies at the Virginia Tech Regional in 2011.
Lamar coach Brian White will bring the same five that have played so well over the past two tournaments. Seniors M.J. Daffue, Xavier Feyaerts, Kevin Hesbois, redshirt junior Erik Knudsen and freshman Luke Jerling won the Southland Conference Tournament on Apr. 25 before finishing fourth less than two weeks ago in Greensboro.
"We've had an up and down season and just never got all five playing well at the same time," said White. "We've started putting it together with all five playing well together. We're peaking at the right time.
"We're always working on the same things for each individual, so I think why we do well in the postseason is because we're not trying to reinvent the wheel. We're still working on each aspect of their individual games so it's not something new. They're very calm because they're doing the same things."
Jerling has been playing exceptionally well lately, including leading the Cardinals with a tie for seventh at the Greensboro Regional. A native of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Jerling picked up his first career college victory at the Wolfpack Spring Open before tying for fifth at the conference tournament.
The 2012 Southland Conference Freshman of the Year will carry a 73.9 strokes per round average into this week's NCAA Championship. However, Jerling is averaging 72.5 strokes per round over his last five tournaments with eight of his 14 rounds at par or better.
A fellow South African, Daffue has three individual wins this season and five for his career. The two-time first-team all-conference selection leads Lamar with a 73.0 scoring average and successfully defended his individual title at the conference tournament.
Daffue tied for 13th at the Greensboro Regional after finishing the 54-hole event at 3-over-par.
"It's very exciting to be in the NCAA Championship," said Daffue. "We've felt like a bit of an underdog, but there's always underdogs making it. It's my last year so it's a good finish. We've been very consistent late in the year and not had the big mistakes. Getting contributions from the whole team has been the difference."
Hesbois, who tied for 16th in Greensboro, is third on the team with a 74.1 scoring average. A native of Belgium, Hesbois earned third-team All-Southland Conference honors this year
Feyaerts tied for 39th at the NCAA Regional, but had posted a pair of top 10s heading into Greensboro. A second-team all-conference selection this year, Feyaerts is just behind Hesbois with a 74.4 scoring average.
Knudsen has played in only six tournaments this year for Lamar, but has played in the last two. After carding a season-low 71 in the final round of the Greensboro Regional, Knudsen lowered his scoring average to 75.8 strokes per round.
There will be a new national champion this year as two-time defending champion Augusta State failed to advance from the Athens Regional. In addition to Lamar and Tulsa, Auburn, Florida and Liberty qualified from the Greensboro Regional.
The other 25 schools in the field are: Alabama, California, Central Florida, Chattanooga, East Carolina Florida State, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kent State, Memphis, North Florida, Oklahoma, Oregon, San Diego State, Southern California, Stanford, Texas, Texas A&M, TCU, UAB, UCLA, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Washington.
"It will probably be the best NCAA Championship ever because it's at one of the best venues ever," said White. "Riviera Country Club is a classic old golf course with celebrity members. It's a great golf course. It ought to be something special."