LAKELAND, FL – Before the start of this year's Matlock Collegiate Classic, Florida Southern head coach Doug Gordin talked not only about what it would take for the Moccasins to win the tournament but also about all the memories from previous Matlocks in his 23 years leading the Mocs. He closed by saying he hoped to make one more great memory in the final home tournament of his career. That hope became a reality Tuesday at Lone Palm Golf Club where the 2nd-ranked Moccasins pulled away from No. 12 Barry over the final nine holes to win the Matlock by six shots.
Florida Southern has now won its own tournament eight times, but never the way it did this year. The Moccasins' final score of 835 (-29) was the best they've ever had in 37 Matlock Collegiate Classics, surpassing an 843 (-21) from 1995 in one of their previous wins. The only team to ever shoot better than Florida Southern in the tournament's long history was West Florida last year with an 830 (-34). The Mocs had not finished any tournament at 20-under par since the 1999 NCAA Division II National Finals, which they won with a -27, and Tuesday's performance gave them their best score in relation to par in Gordin's 23 years as head coach.
Senior John Coultas repeated as individual champion with a 201 (-15) that was also the second lowest score in tournament history. He fell one shot from the record set by former Moccasin Tim Crouch in 2013. Coultas, who won last year's Matlock by one stroke with a -14, won this one by four over a pair of Barry golfers, Jorge Garcia and Niclas Weiland. He's the fifth player to win back-to-back Matlock tournaments and the second Moccasin to do that, joining Steve Sokol (2001-02). Greg Koch also won two for Florida Southern in 2004 and 2006. Barry's Adam Svensson had been the last repeat winner in 2015.
Senior John VanDerLaan, who had been tied with Coultas for the individual lead after the second round, finished tied for fourth with a 207 (-9), placing in the top-five for the second year in a row. West Florida's Chandler Blanchet also had a 207 to finish in the top-five for the second straight year, and the 3-way tie for fourth was completed by Nova Southeastern's Juan Jose Guerra.
Florida Southern carried a -20 into the final round, a score that would have the Moccasins well on their way to victory in most tournaments, but not the Matlock. With all of the top-five, and nearly all of the top-10 teams in the country participating, the Mocs knew they would have to continue playing at the same level they played Monday to hold many of them off on Tuesday. That was evident right from the outset when the Mocs got off to a strong start behind Coultas and sophomore Chase Ibbotson who played their first six holes at -4 and -3 respectively. The Bucs, however, matched them stroke for stroke with Weiland at -4 and Garcia at -3, and they were chipping away with their next two to force the gap down to a single shot roughly halfway through the day.
The Mocs' resilience was put to the test on the par-4 No. 9 where they had two bogeys and a double-bogey, and all five Buccaneers parred it. That's where the Bucs trimmed the deficit to one shot on the scoreboard, but the Mocs widened it again on No. 10. Freshman Jacob Penny, who had the double-bogey on 9, turned around and birdied 10 to give the Mocs a lift, and all of his teammates parred it. Barry, on the other hand, broke down on No. 10 with three bogeys, and as quickly as the Mocs' lead had shrunk to one it was back to five.
By that point, third-place Nova Southeastern and fourth-place West Florida had fallen far enough off the pace to nearly remove them from contention, leaving Florida Southern and Barry to battle it out head-to-head over the final few holes. That being said, West Florida wasn't quite done. The top-ranked Argonauts made a late run to get within one shot of Barry before ending up third.
Sparked by Penny's turn-around, and birdies by Coultas and junior Christian Anderson on 11, Florida Southern caught fire again and pushed its lead up to nine shots. It never fell below six after that as the Moccasins ended up with a final-round 279.
"We emphasize all the time that tournaments are won over the final nine holes, and that's what happened today," said Gordin. "When they needed to play their best after things got close, the guys stepped up and did exactly what they had to do in order to get the win."
With Florida Southern at -29, Barry at -23, and West Florida at -20, it marked the first time in 33 years that three teams finished the Matlock at 20-under par or better. In 1985, it was North Carolina (-23), Auburn (-20) and Ole Miss (-20). Nova Southeastern's score of -15 was also the best for a fourth-place team, and Rollins and Florida Tech tied for fifth at -10. Nine teams broke par this year, which was the most since nine did so in 1989. Led by Coultas, 28 individuals broke par too, the most in 23 years.
With rounds of 65, 70, and 66, Coultas had a chance to tie or break the tournament scoring record set by Crouch five years earlier but bogeyed his final hole of the tournament. He had only three bogeys overall and tied VanDerLaan for the tournament lead with 16 birdies. The win was his first of the season and seventh tournament win of his career.
Anderson matched VanDerLaan with a 72 Tuesday and tied for 29th overall at even-par 216. Penny tied for 32nd after a final-round 75 gave him a one-over-par 217, and Ibbotson tied for 49th with a 223. The sophomore shot a career-best 69 Tuesday with only one bogey.
"The guys told me today they wanted to get this win for me, and sometimes that type of thing can even work against you, but they made it happen," Gordin said. "It was really special to do this in my last Matlock."
Florida Southern's next tournament will be March 4-6, at the Panther Invitational hosted by Florida Tech.