The 2018 NCAA Division II Men's Golf National Championships begin Monday morning in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and there is no shortage of storylines for the Florida Southern Moccasins, who are making their 39th trip to the national finals, the most of any D-II team in the country. In addition to the usual title race that every team is running, the Mocs go into this year's tournament with the label of defending national champion with a five-man roster that is nearly identical to the one that brought home the banner in 2017. The finals will also bring to a close the careers of two of the most decorated players in team history, as well as that of head coach Doug Gordin, who is retiring after nearly 40 years as a college golf coach, including the last 23 at Florida Southern.
The national finals is a five-day event that runs Monday through Friday and includes both a stroke play and medal play portion (previously known as match play). Stroke play is contested over the first three days with one round each day beginning at 7:20 a.m. Central Time/8:20 Eastern. Pairings and tee times for the first two rounds are pre-determined, and the third round is based on team scores up to that point. The top eight teams move on to medal play and will be seeded one through eight based on their finish in stroke play. Live scoring is available throughout the tournament through fscmocs.com or golfstat.com. The NCAA is also providing live updates at ncaa.com.
The quarterfinals are Thursday morning, beginning at 7:20 CST, with the top seed playing against the eighth seed, the second seed facing the seventh, the third facing the sixth, and the fourth facing the fifth. Golfers will compete head-to-head based on lineup position determined prior to each round. Teams receive one point for each win by their individual golfers with a maximum of five points. The four winning teams Thursday morning will be back on the course that same afternoon for the semifinals, and the national championship match is Friday at 9 a.m. CST.
Of the 20 teams competing for the 2018 National Championships, seven have advanced from the South/Southeast Super Regional where 2nd-ranked Florida Southern finished second to top-ranked West Florida. Also headed to the National Finals from that region are No. 5 Barry, No. 6 Lynn, No. 18 Lincoln Memorial (TN), Delta State (MS), and No. 16 Saint Leo.
Advancing from the Atlantic/Northeast Region in order of finish are Roberts Wesleyan (NY), Franklin Pierce (NH), and Charleston (WV). Advancing from the Central/Midwest in order are Indianapolis, Tiffin (OH), Missouri-St. Louis, Southeastern Oklahoma State, and No. 11 Arkansas Tech. Representing the South Central/West in order are No. 22 St. Mary's (TX), California Baptist, Holy Names (CA), No. 10 Colorado-Colorado Springs, and Colorado Christian. Eight individual qualifiers will also be competing during the stroke play portion of the tournament, including Carlos Leandro of Newberry (SC) and Tom Forster of Carson-Newman (TN) from the South/Southeast.
Florida Southern will play the first two rounds with Roberts Wesleyan and California Baptist, which are making their first and third trips to the national finals respectively. On Monday, their tee times begin at noon CST on the back nine, and on Tuesday, they will tee off at 7:20 CST on the front.
Serving as host is the University of North Alabama, with the tournament played at The Fighting Joe at Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. The par-72 course covers 7,407 yards with the holes ranging from the 659-yard No. 12 to a pair of holes listed at 190 yards. By comparison, the longest hole at the super regional tournament covered 573 yards, with the shortest at 106. This is the second time the Division II National Championships have been played at The Fighting Joe, with the first in 2011. The Fighting Joe has also hosted the South Super Regional on three occasions, including last year when the Moccasins were 10-under as runner-up to West Florida.
Florida Southern has not only made 39 trips to the national finals, it is also the only team in the country to have made at least six appearances in every decade since the 1970s. The only other teams with as many as 20 total appearances are Columbus State (GA) and Indiana (PA) with 32 apiece; Cal-Davis and Rollins with 23; and Cal State-Stanislaus with 21. None of those other five are playing in this year's national championship tournament, however, with Barry and West Florida the next closest teams in terms of national appearances with 12. Lynn is right behind them with 11, and those four heavyweights from the South Region have more between them than the other 16 participating teams combined.
This year's field is relatively short on experience. Only seven of last year's teams are back this year, though five of the eight that made it to medal play are. That includes all four that reached the semifinals: national champion Florida Southern, runner-up Lynn, and semifinalists West Florida and Arkansas Tech. Barry, which finished first in stroke play, but was upset by Arkansas Tech in the quarterfinals, is also back for another run. On the flip side, there are seven schools making their first appearance at the national finals and three others that are there for only the second time.
The Moccasins have never been content with just getting there either. Their 13 national championships are more than twice the number won by the next team on the list (Columbus State has six), and their five runner-up finishes are second only to Columbus State's eight. They've placed in the top-five in 31 of their previous 38 trips to the National Finals, with Columbus State second on that list as well with 22.
Of the Moccasins' 13 national titles, six have come under current head coach Doug Gordin (1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2010, and 2017), with the first seven coming from Charley Matlock. No other Division II coach has won more than three. The only other coaches who have won more national championships at any level are Dave Williams at the University of Houston (16 from 1952-87 in Division I); Jim Hanny at Cal State-Stanislaus (12 from 1976-08, all in Division III before the program moved to D-II); Steve Conley at Methodist (11 from 1988-present in Division III); and Mike Holder at Oklahoma State (eight from 1973-05 in Division I).
Florida Southern has also produced a record eight individual national champions, most recently Tim Crouch, who won back-to-back in 2013 and '14. Five of those medalists have come under Gordin.
Gordin is bringing the same five golfers who helped the Moccasins finish as runner-up in both the conference and regional tournaments despite posting a combined score of -24. They finished second to Florida Tech at the SSC Championships, but the Panthers were eliminated at the super regional tournament, and they were second to West Florida at the super regional but out-scored the Argonauts by eight shots over the final two rounds.
Headlining the Florida Southern lineup are seniors John VanDerLaan and John Coultas, a pair of 3-time All-Americans who are playing in the national finals for the fourth time in their careers. They are the first Moccasins to do that since Jeff Klauk and Wayne Raath from 1997-2000. Over the last three seasons at the national finals with VanDerLaan and Coultas in the lineup, the Moccasins have finished eighth, third, and second in stroke play, reached the quarterfinals of medal play in 2015, and the semifinals in 2016, before winning the national championship in 2017.
Juniors Michael VanDerLaan and Christian Anderson will be playing in their third national championship tournament, and freshman Jacob Penny will be playing in his first. Collectively that group has helped the Moccasins win four tournaments this season, finish second in three others, and put together a team scoring average of 283.67. The Mocs have finished behind only 15 teams in 11 tournaments for a team winning percentage of .906, and have had five tournaments with a score of -9 or better, including the last three.
John VanDerLaan is putting together one of the best seasons in team history and will likely set a team scoring record for the second year in a row. His 69.12 average is more than one stroke lower than his record-setting average from a year ago. He has also tied the school records for single-season wins (6) and career wins (10) set by Jeff Klauk during the 1999-00 season, has eight top-five finishes and been outside the top-10 only once in 11 tournaments this season. His career numbers include a 70.96 stroke average, 22 top-five finishes, and 32 top-tens. The two-time SSC Men's Golfer-of-the-Year is coming off his second regional title and has placed 12th and 15th at the national finals the last two years.
Coultas owns a 70.52 scoring average this season, which would be the third lowest in team history, and is at 71.31 for his career. He is one of only three golfers in team history to place in the top-five of three different NCAA National Championship Tournaments, joining Lee Janzen (1984-86) and Rodney Butcher (1990-92), and now has the chance to become the first with four such finishes. Coultas was the runner-up to West Florida's Chandler Blanchet at the finals last year with an even-par 210 after shooting a -3 as a freshman and -9 as a sophomore when he was fourth in both cases. He is also the only Moccasin to have won at least one medal-play match each of the last three years, and along with John VanDerLaan, went 3-0 in that department last year in Kissimmee.
Michael VanDerLaan is averaging a career-best 72.89 strokes per round this year, down nearly three strokes from last year when he tied for 20th at the national finals and then led the Mocs with a 68 in the quarterfinal win over Ferris State. After ending the regular season with back-to-back top-20 finishes at the Bobcat Invitational and the Battle at the Shores, VanDerLaan charged up the standings over the final two days at the super regional and was one of four Moccasins to shoot 70 or better on the final day. Going back to last year's national finals, he has a 72.56 stroke average during NCAA Tournament play.
Now playing in his third national finals as well, Anderson is another Moccasin having the best season of his college career. His 73.45 scoring average is more than a stroke lower than last year when he swung the national championship match against Lynn in Florida Southern's favor. Anderson defeated Mateo Gomez by one stroke as John VanDerLaan and Coultas were playing behind him trying to put their own individual matches in the book. In the stroke play portion of the tournament, Anderson tied for 17th before going on to win two of his individual matches.
Penny is the Mocs' lone underclassman in this year's tournament. He earned his spot with a 72.83 stroke average during the regular season and has gone even lower in the postseason with a 70.33 average during the SSC and NCAA Super Regional tournaments. Penny tied for 16th at the conference championships with an even-par 213 before tying for fourth at the South/Southeast Super Regional with a four-under-par 209. That made him the top freshman in both tournaments and gave Florida Southern two top-five finishers in an NCAA postseason tournament for the first time since 2001.
Florida Southern won last year's national title with a 3-2 victory over Lynn in the championship match with Anderson, John VanDerLaan, and Coultas all winning their individual matches. That marked the sixth straight year a team from the Sunshine State Conference won the Division II National Championship, with Nova Southeastern winning in 2012 and '15, Barry winning in 2013 and '14, and Saint Leo in 2016. Since medal play began in 2011, the championship match has featured two SSC teams on four occasions, and at least three SSC teams have reached the semifinals four times as well.