BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – The University of Memphis golf team fought back from a back nine deficit to finish fifth in the NCAA Bowling Green Regional and secure a berth in the 2012 NCAA Championship on May 29 – June 3 at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif. Memphis carded a 54-hole score of 876 to finish fifth in the regional.
"I'm just so proud of the guys for hanging in there and showing toughness down the stretch, Memphis head coach Grant Robbins said. "That was a pretty clutch performance over the last few holes. We had an idea of where we were and knew every shot counted."
Fly led the Tigers with a program best NCAA Regional finish of tied for third. He carded a 54-hole total of 211 (-5) to lead the Tigers. Jack Belote finished with a 75 en route to a tied for 19th finish and a 54-hole total of 220. Will Pearson, who led the Tigers with a 69 in round two, tied teammate Grant Milner in round three with a 76. Pearson finished in a tie for 26th, while Milner landed in 57th. Steve Lee fired round of 76-76-73 for a tied for 40th showing.
Memphis found itself on the outside looking in through about nine holes Saturday as Arkansas made an early push. The Razorbacks started on the back nine, which was the statistically easier side for the tournament, and moved to as low as 6-under-par as a team for the day to get to +12 and take a one-shot lead on Memphis, which started on the more difficult front nine.
When Steve Lee and Jack Belote each registered birdies on Nos. 13 and 14, respectively, the Tigers jumped four shots as the Razorbacks dropped a shot in the same stretch. Memphis found itself in fifth at 11-over-par with all players through 13 holes, while Arkansas had fallen back to +15 as a team. The Tigers never fell lower than fifth for the rest of the day.
North Texas, which also started on the backside with Arkansas, made a run and got as low as +14 with all players through 10 but dropped a couple of shots to finish at +16. Arkansas continued to battle as North Texas slid playing the difficult back nine. Fly birdied No. 18 to put Memphis at +12 for the tournament as Arkansas attempted to make one final push with the Tigers in the clubhouse.
"(Jonathan) hit about a 350-yard drive down the hill on No. 18," Robbins said. "Then he knocked it over the green and made a downhill six footer for birdie."
Austin Cook birdied the final two holes for the Razorbacks to put them at +14 as Ethan Tracy and Sebastian Cappelen each had one hole remaining. Tracy recorded a par on the 18th hole, and Cappelen made a bogey to ensure Memphis would advance to the NCAA Championships later this month.
30 teams – five from each of the six regional sites – will play 54 holes of stroke play at Riviera. At the end of the 54 holes, an individual champion will be crowned and only the top eight teams will advance to a match play playoff.
"We'll get back to work Monday," Robbins said. "Our goal is now to finish in the top eight at nationals and make match play."
The eight teams will play a straight match play competition with the number one team after 54 holes of stroke play facing the number-eight team, number-seven will play number-two, number-six will play number-three and number-four will face number-five. The winners advance to the Final Four, then the two winners will play for the national championship on the final day.
The lineups for each team will be based on the player rankings in the 54 holes of stroke play, not the lineup entered by coaches prior to the tournament. The number-one player for the #1 seed will play the #1 player for the eighth place team, and so on.
Each match will be worth one point. A match that is tied after 18 holes will be awarded a half-point. If the team score is tied after the completion of all five matches, a playoff using the combined strokes of all five players from an extra hole will decide the winner. If there still is a tie, the playoff would continue to another hole until there is a winner.
This was the fourth appearance in NCAA postseason play for Memphis and the first time advancing to the NCAA Championships since moving to the regional format. Tigers finished tied for 20th at the 2008 NCAA East Regional at Council Fire Golf Club in Chattanooga, Tenn. Robbins was named 2008 C-USA Coach of the Year during that season. Last season, Memphis finished in 11th position at the NCAA Central-Indiana Regional.
The Tigers advanced to the finals at NCAA Championship for the only time in school history in 1988 when they were led by All-American Steve Metz. Memphis finished 28th in the championship.