CONOVER, NC – There was much discussion early among the Florida Southern coaching staff about the pluses and minuses of opening the NCAA Division II South/Southeast Super Regional on the back nine of Rock Barn Golf Club rather than the front. The consensus seemed to be that it was better to start where they were with a favorable front nine coming later in the afternoon. What a difference it turned out to be, and that difference sent the Moccasins soaring up the standings as the sun got lower.
At one point, a little over halfway through their round, the Moccasins were in 13th place, a startling position given their No. 2 national ranking and the way they had played all season long. The Mocs had fought through the back nine with their four eventual counters putting up a score of +9. Those same four were even while playing the front nine where senior John VanDerLaan had all four of his birdies to finish the day with a team-best one-under-par 70 that has him tied for seventh, three strokes behind the co-leaders Manuel Torres of Lynn and Tom Forster of Carson-Newman.
After the Mocs finished their round and were in the clubhouse, or at least en route across the long hills of Rock Barn Country Club, several other teams still had to complete theirs. As the Mocs played their final holes, and the final scores from six other teams were being tallied in the same fashion, Florida Southern was climbing from 13th to 11th to a tie for 9th and into a tie for 6th. When the last of the scorecards were in, the Moccasins were tied for fifth with Columbus State (one of the teams they were playing with). The Mocs and Cougars each had a 293 (+9), which left them just one shot behind fourth-place Lander.
Holding the top spot was No. 1-ranked West Florida at -2, followed by Lynn at even-par 284, and Barry at +3. Lander, Florida Southern and Columbus State followed, and Rollins was seventh at +10. The top seven teams will advance to the Division II National Finals, and there are three teams sitting just two shots behind the seventh-place Tars, and three behind the Moccasins.
Early on, it was freshman Jacob Penny who was setting the pace and keeping the Mocs afloat. He was forced to take a drop on the first hole, which resulted in a double-bogey, but he stormed back with three consecutive birdies. That was a streak matched by only two other golfers in the 108-player field, and one of those was Torres, who made four in a row for Lynn from 3 to 6. Penny hit some marvelous shots during his hot streak, including one that nearly dropped in for an eagle on 12. That came after a perfect shot on 11 out of a rough spot in the fairway, which set up his first birdie of the day. Even when he ran into a similar situation on 18 that he had on one, Penny rebounded by parring eight of his final nine holes, including the last seven to finish with a 74, which tied him for 35th.
Another Moccasin with a 74 was senior John Coultas, who overcame three bogeys on his first eight holes. After that it was 10 consecutive pars, the Mocs' longest such run of par/birdies on the day. His even-par 35 on the front nine, or second half of the round, was second on the team only to John VanDerLaan's 32, and Coultas was tied for the tournament lead with 15 pars on the day.
VanDerLaan's day started with pars on his first seven holes, including a nice one on 15 when he came out of the sand with a shot that avoided a water hazard. However, it was a shot into the water on 17 that resulted in a double-bogey and put him at +2 halfway through the round. He wasn't there very long. With birdies on 1, 3, 7, and 8, VanDerLaan went on a run that tied him with Barry's Daniel Faccini for the best front-nine score in the tournament.
Junior Christian Anderson was Florida Southern's fourth counter with a 75, and like the rest of his teammates, he ended the day strong. Both of his birdies came over the final seven holes, on the par-3 No. 3, and the par-4 No. 5, and he birdied or parred 14 of the last 15.
Junior Michael VanDerLaan carded a 76 Monday, but his score was the Mocs' non-counter. That was tied for the best non-counting score in the tournament, with West Florida, Lynn, and USC-Aiken also getting a 76 from their fifth.
Florida Southern will be playing with Columbus State and Nova Southeastern, which was tied for 16th, again on Tuesday, but with much earlier tee times. The Mocs will be in the first wave beginning at 7:30 a.m.