Following one of the best regular seasons in team history, Florida Southern embarks on its final postseason tour under retiring head coach Doug Gordin this week as the 2nd-ranked Moccasins open play in the 2018 Sunshine State Conference Men's Golf Championships. This year's tournament is being played at Grande Oaks Golf Club in Davie with Nova Southeastern University serving as host. The only previous time the SSC Championships were held there in 2010, the Moccasins won the league title with a score of -17 before going on to win the NCAA Division II National Championship.
Three rounds will be played from Sunday through Tuesday, with one round each day beginning at 8 a.m. First-round pairings are determined by the Golfstat team rankings, with second and third-round pairings based on team scores up to that point. Live stats will be available throughout the tournament at the SSC Championships Home Page.
Scoring will consist of stroke play for all three rounds, with teams playing a maximum of five golfers. The four lowest scores in each round count toward the team score. If two or more teams are tied at the end of regulation play for the championship, those teams will compete in a sudden-death playoff on a pre-determined hole using the same scoring format (four lowest scores counting). Any golfers tied for medalist honors will also compete in a playoff to determine the SSC individual champion.
The Moccasins have been playing in a championship environment all season. In seven of their nine regular season tournaments, there were at least four nationally ranked top-five teams participating, and there have been an average of seven top-10 teams in each tournament they've played. It will be more of the same this week as the SSC Championships will feature No. 3 Nova Southeastern, No. 4 Barry, No. 5 Florida Tech, No. 6 Lynn, No. 12 Rollins, and No. 14 Saint Leo in addition to No. 2 Florida Southern.
The winner of the SSC Championship Tournament receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II South/Southeast Super Regional, but the strength of the SSC ensures that many of the other teams will also advance as at-large selections. The Sunshine State Conference has produced 22 national championships in men's golf, and 21 of those have come since 1981, including seven of the last eight. Since Division II went to a match-play format to decide its national champion in 2011, the championship match has featured two SSC teams going head-to-head in five of those seven seasons. One of those was last year when Florida Southern defeated Lynn to win its 13th national title overall, and its sixth under Gordin.
The Moccasins have already won four tournaments this season (one fall, three spring), their most in the regular season in Gordin's 23 years as head coach. One more win would equal the most Florida Southern has ever won when postseason play is included.
At the top of the Moccasin lineup are senior All-Americans John VanDerLaan and John Coultas who have won the last two SSC Men's Golfer-of-the-Year awards. VanDerLaan was last year's winner and Coultas earned that honor in 2016. This year they are ranked No. 1 and No. 5 in the individual Golfstat rankings, and in two different tournaments this season they claimed the top two positions in the field. They've done that now four times in their career, and one of those occurrences came at the SSC Championships in 2015 when they were freshmen.
VanDerLaan has a team-leading 69.30 stroke average that is the best in team history and almost a full stroke lower than the record he set last year. With five individual wins on the season and nine in his career, he is one shy of the school records in those categories held by Jeff Klauk, who won six tournaments as a senior in 1999-2000. VanDerLaan goes into the conference championships with seven consecutive top-five finishes.
Coultas has a 70.70 stroke average that is currently the third lowest in team history, and like VanDerLaan is averaging a little over 71.00 for his career. His four top-five finishes this season give him 20 for his career, and five of those have come in postseason play. He's been a tournament champion or runner-up 12 times, and has the Mocs' lowest postseason average over the last four years.
Junior Michael VanDerLaan is making a return trip to the SSC Championships too after tying for 26th last year. He's seen his scoring average drop from 75.69 during the 2016-17 season to 72.67 this year, and has climbed to No. 31 in the Golfstat individual rankings. He's coming off back-to-back top-20 finishes at the Bobcat Invitational and The Battle at the Shores, following a similar path to last year when he had his three best tournaments during the postseason.
Jacob Penny is the only freshmen in the Florida Southern lineup this year but has already played in eight high-level tournaments during the regular season. His 72.83 stroke average is a fraction behind Michael VanDerLaan for fourth on the team, and only John VanDerLaan and Coultas have had better averages among Moccasin freshmen in the last 10 years. Penny is currently No. 61 in the Golfstat rankings, No. 5 among freshmen, and has four top-20 finishes.
Christian Anderson is a junior who will be playing in the SSC Championships for the third time with a 17th-place showing as a freshman and 33rd last year. His 73.70 stroke average is the best of his career, and more than one stroke better than his regular season average of a year ago. Anderson has also posted Florida Southern's best score in three of six rounds during the last two conference championship tournaments.
Florida Southern has won the SSC title more than any other school, claiming 16 of the league's 36 championship tournaments. (It was first held in 1977, but was not played from 1986-90.) The Mocs' most recent title came in 2010, which was the seventh for Gordin, and only former Florida Southern coach Charley Matlock has won more with nine. The Mocs have also had the most individual titlists with 10 since complete tournament records are available dating back to 1982.
Barry is the defending SSC champion after winning its third conference title last year, all of them in the last five years. The Buccaneers had a winning score of -14 to finish six shots ahead of Saint Leo, and eight in front of third-place Florida Tech. Lynn was fourth at -4, Florida Southern was fifth with a +5, and Nova Southeastern was sixth with a +8. Florida Southern then finished first among six SSC schools at the NCAA Division II South/Southeast Super Regional, and eventually defeated Lynn 3-2 in match play at the national finals where the Moccasins were crowned national champions for the 13th time.
The Bucs were led by individual champion Kyle Brey, who tied the SSC Tournament scoring record with a -12. He finished six strokes ahead of John VanDerLaan, with Florida Tech's Galen Trew third at -5, and Lynn's Manuel Torres fourth at -4. All four of those golfers are back this year, as is Florida Tech's Max O'Hagan who tied for fifth. Brey (2017), Torres (2016), and VanDerLaan (2015) have all won previous SSC Tournaments. The last player to win two individual titles was Nova Southeastern's Greg O'Mahony in 2008 and '09.
The list of returning competitors also includes ten of the 13 players who shot even par or better last year, including Florida Southern's John Coultas, as he and VanDerLaan attempt to join an exclusive list of golfers who have four top-10 finishes at the SSC Championships in their careers. Only six have accomplished that so far, with just one in the last 15 years.
Following the SSC Championships, selections for the NCAA playoffs will be announced on Friday night, April 27. The top 10 teams from each region, along with the top four individuals not on one of those teams, will earn bids to their respective Super Regional Tournaments. The combined South and Southeast Regions make up one of those Super Regionals being played at Rock Barn Country Club in Conover, North Carolina, May 7-9. The NCAA Division II National Finals are May 21-25 at Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at the Shoals/Fighting Joe Golf Course in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.