MUSCLE SHOALS, AL – Only a few hours after being named the Sunshine State Conference Men's Golfer-of-the-Year, junior John VanDerLaan added another trophy to his mantle and led a Florida Southern charge on the final day of the NCAA Division II South/Southeast Regional that gave the Moccasins a runner-up finish and a spot in the 2017 Division II National Finals. VanDerLaan came from behind Wednesday with a final-round 65 to win the individual title with a 15-under par 201 that was the best score ever at a South or South/Southeast Regional.
West Florida, the top-ranked team in Division II, won the tournament with a -21, the best team score ever posted in a South or South/Southeast Regional, two shots better than the winning score Nova Southeastern had two years ago. It allowed the Argonauts to snap a four-year winning streak by the Sunshine State Conference, making them the first team from the Gulf South Conference to win a regional title since North Alabama on the same Fighting Joe Course at The Shoals in 2009. SSC schools have still won 11 of the 22 regional tournaments held.
Florida Southern, which came into the tournament ranked No. 4 in the country, had a final-round 278 (-10) that equaled their best round of the season, which was shot in the opening round of the NCAA DII National Preview Tournament back on October 3. That gave the Moccasins an 854 (-10) overall, a score that would have won all but two of the previous 21 South Region Tournaments. It moved them ahead of 2nd-ranked Lynn for second place in this year's regional after they'd started the day in third, three shots behind the Knights. It was the Mocs' highest regional finish since tying for second in 2007. They had placed third on four different occasions in the nine intervening years before this one.
Also advancing to the National Tournament from the South/Southeast were Lynn, Florida Tech, Barry, Newberry (SC) and North Alabama, which was serving as the regional host. The Lions were not in the top seven when the day began but earned a spot at the National Finals when South Carolina-Aiken had the third worst team score of the day and dropped from fifth down to eighth, two shots behind UNA.
VanDerLaan, who tied for fourth at the 2015 regional tournament as a freshman, becomes Florida Southern's sixth individual South Region champion since regionals were first held in 1996. He joins Travis Perkins (1996), Jeff Klauk (1998 and 2000), Wayne Raath (1999), and Tim Crouch (2014). Prior to this year the best score recorded by any golfer in a South or South/Southeast Regional came from last year's winner, Manuel Torres, who had a -10 for Lynn to edge out Florida Southern's John Coultas by one stroke. This year three golfers were at -10 or better with West Florida's Chandler Blanchet the runner-up with a -12, and another Argonaut, Jacob Huizinga, placing third with a -10.
VanDerLaan's 65 included nine birdies, which came in between a bogey on 1 and a bogey on 18. Starting two strokes down to Blanchet, who also bogeyed the par-5, 611-yard first hole, VanDerLaan caught him with back-to-back birdies on 2 and 3, and moved in front of him when Blanchet bogeyed 7. He added another stroke with a birdie on 8, and had three in a row from 11 to 13 to really take control. He ended up with his second 65 of the season to go along with a 64 from the final round of the Matlock Classic on February 14, a round in which he had eight birdies. VanDerLaan now has nine top-five finishes this season, equalling the most by a Moccasin since at least 1990. John Curley also had nine in 1995-96. It was also his second individual win following the Florida Tech Panther Invitational in March.
The teams that teed off in the morning were far enough back of Florida Southern to not pose a threat to the Moccasins' chance of advancement. The closest team outside of the top seven was North Alabama, which began play at noon, and the Lions were the only one of that particular group that might have been able to make a strong enough run to cause the Mocs concern. Even then, the Lions would have had to make up at least 13 shots, and by sitting in third place, Florida Southern had four other teams providing somewhat of a buffer between themselves and UNA. In other words, the Mocs were in a position of strength going into the final round and just needed to continue to play as they did the first two days to wrap up a trip to the National Finals.
Perhaps more interesting for the Mocs as they waited out the morning prior to their first tee time was the individual race. VanDerLaan started the day in second place trailing Blanchet by two strokes, but Richard Mansell of Nova Southeastern was only one stroke behind VanDerLaan and playing in one of the earlier time slots. Mansell made things interesting too. The senior and two-time All-American made the turn at one-under and with four holes remaining had moved into a tie for first with the idle Blanchet.
Mansell remained there through 15 and 16, but a double-bogey on 17 brought him back into a tie for second with VanDerLaan. He then bogeyed 18 to drop back into third place at the end of his round, forcing him to wait out the rest of the day to see where he would finish. With Nova Southeastern out of the race as a team, Mansell was still high enough to earn one of the two spots allocated to additional individuals going to Nationals, and he eventually got it by finishing fourth with a seven-under par 209. Saint Leo's Ryan Gendron, who qualified for the Regionals as an individual, was the other individual to advance with a five-under par 211.
When Florida Southern finally did tee off Wednesday afternoon at 12:50 local time, North Alabama had replaced Newberry (SC) as the seventh team in the standings, which actually gave the Mocs a little more breathing room, albeit one extra shot. The Mocs then went out and gave themselves even more, playing the first three holes at one-under. The early going saw John VanDerLaan, John Coultas and Christian Anderson all birdie the par-4 No. 2, and VanDerLaan and Anderson pick up additional birdies on 3 and 4 respectively.
Chase Ibbotson added another one on No. 5, and that put him, John VanDerLaan and Coultas all at one-under, and Anderson even. Michael VanDerLaan wasn't far behind them either at +1 as the Mocs were tightening their grip on third place. At that stage, their lead over fourth-place Florida Tech had grown to 10 shots, and they were 20 in the clear for advancement. The Mocs could then set their sights on moving up and eventually did that too.
Anderson was the first Moccasin to finish and turned in his best score of the tournament with a one-under par 71. He played the front nine at two-over, then lit up the back nine at three-under. Next in was Michael VanDerLaan who had a run of 13 straight holes Tuesday without a bogey and carded a 74 the Mocs didn't even have to count. It was only the third time in 33 rounds this season the Mocs had a non-counting 74, and two of those have come in the last two tournaments. That score gave Anderson and the younger of the VanDerLaan brothers matching scores of 222 (+6) overall which tied them for 38th place.
Coultas, who was last year's South/Southeast Region runner-up, was the third Moccasin to complete his round on Wednesday and had a 71 for the second day in a row. He had just one bogey (No. 14) and had birdies or pars on 49 of his 54 holes in the tournament. That included 35 of 36 in the final two rounds which gave him a total score of 218 (+2) and tied him for 22nd.
Florida Southern's number two golfer in the tournament was Ibbotson, their lone freshman, who closed with a one-under par 71 Wednesday to give an even-par 216 for the tournament. It was Ibbotson's best performance of the season, three shots better than his score at the Saint Leo Invitational in September, and by tying for 11th in the regional, he finished six spots higher than where he did at the Florida Tech Panther Invitational in early March.
The NCAA Division II National Finals get underway on Monday, May 22 at Reunion Resort in Kissimmee, Florida. The first three days of the National Tournament will feature stroke play between the 20 competing teams and eight qualifying individuals, with each day's round beginning at 7:30 a.m. The top eight teams will then advance to match play, which will be conducted on Thursday and Friday, May 25-26. The quarterfinals and semifinals will be played Thursday, with the National Championship Match scheduled for that Friday at 9 a.m.
Florida Southern will play the first two rounds, Monday and Tuesday, with the runner-up from the West/South Central Regional, Stanislaus State (CA), and the champion from the East/Atlantic Regional, Dominican (NY). The Moccasins' first tee time that Monday will be at 12:00 p.m., and they'll begin play on Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. Third round pairings will be determined by team scores up to that point.