BRYAN, Texas – Faced with a 10-stroke deficit entering the final day of play to advance to the 2018 NCAA Championship, the Kentucky men’s golf team needed to play its best round of the tournament, benefit from a few breaks and produce a little magic along the way.
UK’s lineup improved by six shots and earned some breaks. About that magic? It came in the form of a 118-yard approach shot on the 444-yard, par-four 18th hole off the club of senior Chip McDaniel.
With the Cats clinging to a one-stroke advantage over Ole Miss for the fifth and final spot from the Bryan Regional to send UK to the NCAA Championship, McDaniel delivered the biggest shot of his decorated career.
The setup began with a powerful 326-yard drive that landed in the fairway. Only needing a par, McDaniel lofted his shot towards the green and watched as an entire sea of blue-clad teammates erupted when he holed the shot.
And with that one swing of the club it solidified the Cats aren’t done yet.
“I am beyond proud of these boys, especially my seniors Chip McDaniel and Cooper Musselman,” UK head coach Brian Craig said. “Those two are just fabulous both on and off the course. Today was a memory of a lifetime. We had the kind of guts and grit that only extraordinary people have.
“And how about our senior leader, Chip?” Craig said. “He makes a 20 footer for par on 17 and then hits a 330-yard tee shot on 18 right down the middle. He wanted to know where we stood and I told him. He then holed the 118-yard wedge shot and the team celebration was something to behold. Chip was Chip and I could not be prouder of him.”
McDaniel was not the only Wildcat to shine on the most important day of the season. Classmate Cooper Musselman turned in a 2-under 70, while freshman Max Mehles and junior Fred Allen Meyer carded their best scores of the week with even-par 72s.
All told, Kentucky made up a 10-shot deficit with a 3-under round on the final day of play to edge Ole Miss by three shots for the coveted fifth and final spot. UK will make its 10th appearance in the NCAA Championship in program history, including the seventh under Craig.
NCAA Championship play begins in Stillwater, Oklahoma, on May 25.
McDaniel began his day with a rough opening nine, going out with a 40. With his back against the wall and UK needing every stroke it could muster from its clubhouse leader, McDaniel put together one of the most dazzling scorecards over the final nine holes of play and certainly one of the most impressive in a pressure-cooked situation.
Birdies on No. 10 and No. 11 were followed by two more consecutive red numbers on the 14th and 15th. A bogey on the par-three 16th knocked him back to 1-over par for his round. A much-needed par on the 17th in the form of a 20-foot putt set the stage for the magical 18th. He finished the tournament tied for 11th with a combined 2-under score over the 54-hole event. He’s notched a top-15 finish at each of his last three NCAA Regional events.
Musselman’s meteoric rise up the individual leaderboard continued on Wednesday as the senior from Louisville, Kentucky, moved 13 spots up into a tie for 19th behind a 2-under round on the final day. He began his round with a birdie on the par-four first before a bogey on the par-three second placed him back at par for the day. UK’s steady leader carved out birdies on the par-three seventh and the par-five 10th and played even par over the course of the other final 14 holes for his final score. He played at 6-under par over his final two rounds of the tournament. Musselman tied for 19th overall at 1-over par.
Meyer concluded the tournament in a tie for 32nd following his most productive day of the event with an even-par 72. He offset three bogeys on his scorecard with birdies on the second, eighth and 16th holes.
Mehles, appearing in his first collegiate NCAA postseason, tied for 50th behind a 72 on Wednesday. His day was highlighted by birdies on the par-four sixth and the par-four ninth.
Junior Lukas Euler, UK’s season stroke leader at 71.30 entering the tournament, had an uncharacteristic week and finished in a tie for 67th. He’ll look to rebound at next week’s NCAA Championship where he’s had success before.
The host Texas A&M Aggies ended the tournament in first. Clemson came in second with Baylor, UCLA and Kentucky rounding out the top five.
5 – Kentucky (298, 291, 285 – 874, +10)
T11 – Chip McDaniel (69, 74, 71 – 214, -2)
T19 – Cooper Musselman (79, 68, 70 – 217, +1)
T32 – Fred Allen Meyer (73, 76, 72 – 221, +5)
T50 – Max Mehles (80, 73, 72 – 225, +9)
T67 – Lukas Euler (77, 77, 78 – 232, +16)