UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion men's golf team manufactured one of the biggest turnarounds of the spring sports season over the weekend by earning a spot in the NCAA Championships in Chattanooga, Tenn.
After a 10th place finish in the Big Ten Championships three weeks ago, the Nittany Lions garnered an at-large berth to get into the NCAA Regional competition. And the Lions made the most of their regional visit to Yale over the weekend.
Heading into the tournament, it was hard to figure how the Nittany Lions would fare. The 10th place effort at the Big Ten Championships raised some questions. Nonetheless, it was clear on day one of regional competition that the Nittany Lions were going to be heard from at Yale.
A red-hot start set the tone for what turned out to be an outstanding weekend for head coach Greg Nye and the Nittany Lions. A pair of seniors posted standout performances throughout the weekend in New Haven, Conn. T.J. Howe fired scores of 69, 68 and 66 to earn a share of first place in the regional. Fellow senior Kevin Foley finished in a tie for fourth with a 67, 67 and 72.
Howe made history with his combined 7-under par performance, earning the best individual finish by a Nittany Lion golfer at NCAA Regional competition. The third-round 66 also topped his personal best career round. It was a tremendous performance from Osceola, Pa., native.
The NCAA field is made up of 30 teams. Each of the six regions sent the five low teams into the NCAA field. As a team, the Lions finished fourth in the 14-team field, which will automatically send them to the 2010 NCAA Championships from June 1-6 in Chattanooga. This will mark Penn State's 17th NCAA appearance and fourth under Coach Nye. The Lions last competed in the NCAAs in 2008.
The Course at Yale has been very friendly to the Nittany Lions over the years. Penn State posted a second place finish in NCAA Regional competition in New Haven to earn an automatic berth into the NCAA Championships in 2004.
In a span of two weeks, the Lions went from a 10th place team at the conference championships to a fourth place team at a 14-team regional with several ranked teams. As we said to kick off this post, it is remarkable to think that the Nittany Lions finished 10th out of 11 at the Big Ten Championships earlier this spring.
Howe and Foley were the catalysts, though. They played some of the best golf of their Nittany Lion careers. Howe was the only player in the field to shoot three consecutive rounds in the 60s. Foley was on Howe's heels throughout the weekend, but a two-over 72 in the final round kept him from potentially giving the Lions a clean sweep atop the leaderboard.
Nonetheless, it was a tremendous performance from the Nittany Lion golf team over the weekend. Three rounds of superb golf firmly put the Lions in the NCAA Championship field. Congratulations to Coach Nye and the rest of the team for an outstanding weekend at Yale.