Eastern Florida sophomore Kerry Sweeney became the eighth Titan to win an NJCAA Division I men's golf national championship on Friday as he blistered Duran Golf Club in Viera with a 65.
Sweeney, from Melbourne, Florida and Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy, where he won a state high school championship, finished the four rounds at 71-69-70-65=275. Odessa, Texas, College's Augustin Hole finished second at 278. Indian Hills Community College's Jackson Bugdalski, Western Texas College's Elliott Fullaove and Indian Hills' Trevor Ullestad tied for third at 279.
Sweeney took the lead into the clubhouse and waited more than an hour as Bugdalski, his closest pursuer at the time, completed his round.
Bugdalski began Friday as the leader at 205 and had a chance to catch or pass Sweeney, who began the day fifth at 210, but carded a final round 74.
Sweeney joins Mike Smith in 1971; Butch Girard, 1976; Steve LaMontagne, 1985; Richard Sadler, 1991; Lyle Patton, 2002; Jacob Davis, 2004; and Billy Anderson, 2011 as a Titan individual champion.
The Titans finished tied for fourth as a team, their second top-5 finish in two seasons. They rallied from 11th on Tuesday to fifth on Thursday but didn't have enough to catch champion McLennan Community College of Texas. McLennan finished at 1,128. Western Texas was second at 1,136 and Midland of Texas third at 1,143.
Defending champion Indian Hills and Eastern Florida tied at 1,144. The Titans finished as runner-up at last year's tournament.
"We didn't want fourth as a team but that's awesome for Kerry," said Eastern Florida head coach Jamie Howell who took the Titans to their 14th consecutive national tournament appearance.
"Good golly, it's been coming for a while. I couldn't be more proud of him. He came in today, if you asked him he had a rough week, and was he was kind of second-guessing what was going on but it all came together for him today.
"The team did a yeoman's job. They came back in the third round. We shot a good round today, we moved up to fourth after we were 13th after the first round. That's a good finish. Not what we wanted but we moved up. It's a good thing."
For the Titans Brad Bawden and Michael Keymont finished tied for 29th at 289. Bawden shot 77 on Friday and Keymont 70. Tyler Bennett finished tied for 34th at 292 after shooting 69 and Corey Herman tied for 95th at 314 after carding 80.
Sweeney's finish earned him NJCAA first-team All-America honors to go with PING second-team All-America honors announced Monday.
He also is a finalist for his second Jack Nicklaus National Player of the Year Award that will be presented June 2. UPDATE: Sweeney won the Nicklaus Award on Thursday, June 2 -- one of only six back-to-back winners in the award's history. Read more in the Florida Today story.
Needless to say he was euphoric on Friday and credited his hard work.
"A grind, just a grind," he said. "It was all there all the time. It was just a matter of when. It was a matter of when I would break through. That's golf," he added, pausing to embrace Howell.
"It's just how golf works. Things happen. You just keep working hard. I had all the things working for me. Patience is a virtue.
"I had a good day out there today. I kept my head strong. Mentally I was there."
Sweeney birdied seven holes, four on the front nine and then holes 10, 11 and 14 to finish seven under par, matching the tournament's best individual round.
"This is awesome. I was bogey free. The first hole was a moment of dwelling in the moment," I guess. This is my last time with coach, this is my last time with the team. I had to play my heart out. Just fought and fought and fought.
"I knew I had it in me."
Sweeney will continue his career at NCAA Division I Mississippi next fall.
McLennan head coach Vince Clark earned coach of the year honors capping a week that also included his induction into the NJCAA Hall of Fame.
Pima Community College's Frankie Wu joined Sweeney, Hole, Bugdalski, Fullalove and Ullstad as NJCAA first-team All-Americas.
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