MUSCLE SHOALS, AL – Senior John VanDerLaan put his name in the history books multiple times Wednesday at the 2018 NCAA Division II National Men's Golf Championships, and in the process, helped propel Florida Southern into the medal play portion of the tournament as the top seed among the eight remaining teams. VanDerLaan's final-round 65 gave him the individual national title, and the Moccasins had a team postseason record 276 to earn the top seed in the medal play beginning Thursday.
The Moccasins will face No. 8 seed Lincoln Memorial beginning at 7:00 a.m. CST/8:00 EST. (Note time change from the previous announcement.) The winner will then face the winner between No. 4 seed West Florida and No. 5 seed Indianapolis at 1:40 p.m. CST/2:40 EST.
The other half of the bracket will have No. 2 seed Barry playing No. 7 seed Saint Leo, and No. 3 seed Lynn playing No. 6 seed Arkansas Tech. All four of the teams from the Sunshine State Conference that reached the national finals qualified for the quarterfinals, and six of the seven teams that advanced from the South/Southeast Super Region did so as well.
VanDerLaan and the Moccasins did little wrong on Wednesday. Up to that point, they had not played what head coach Doug Gordin would call a "great" round yet, but he emphatically vowed it was coming. The Mocs had been pretty good through the first two rounds with scores of -7 and -5, but the expectations were higher, and higher they went on Wednesday, or perhaps lower in terms of golf scoring. With VanDerLaan's 65 and a 66 from fellow senior John Coultas, the Moccasins went from third to second in the team standings before the halfway point of the third round and moved ahead of Barry not long after that. The 12-under-par 276 broke their previous postseason scoring record by one shot, which they had set in the final round of the national championships in Valdosta in 1999.
In addition to the 65 and 66 from John VanDerLaan and Coultas, the Moccasins also counted a 72 from Christian Anderson and a 73 from Michael VanDerLaan. Jacob Penny had a 78 that was not counted, though his first two rounds were.
This year, Florida Southern finished six shots ahead of Barry in stroke play with a three-day total of -24 (840). The only time the Mocs have ever had a better total score at an NCAA tournament was also in the '99 national finals in Valdosta when it was still four rounds. They had a -27 that year as a national championship team.
While the team championship will be decided in head-to-head matches over the next two days, the individual champion was crowned Wednesday night when John VanDerLaan finished four strokes ahead of Barry's Jorge Garcia, who was one stroke ahead of VanDerLaan when the day began. It's the ninth time a Florida Southern golfer has won the individual title at the national finals, more than any other school. His name is now added to a list that already includes Tom Gleeton (1979), Tom Patri (1981), Lee Janzen (1985), Matt Saglio (1999), Jeff Klauk (2000), Steve Sokol (2001), and Tim Crouch (2013 and '14).
VanDerLaan topped all of them, however, with a winning score of 17-under-par 199 (66-68-65), not only the best for a Moccasin at the national finals, the best for any player, from any team, in any year. The previous record was -15 by Scott Householder of Cal State-San Bernardino in 1997 over four rounds, while the best previous three-round total was -13 by Saint Leo's Hugo Bernard in 2016. He got that record too with three straight birdies to end the day, one of them after he nearly aced the final hole.
With VanDerLaan and Garcia playing together in the final group, the two title hopefuls went go head-to-head Wednesday, but as the day progressed, a new contender emerged. Saint Leo's Oliver Lilliedahl, playing further ahead on the course, grabbed a share of the lead roughly halfway through the day unbeknownst to the VanDerLaan and Garcia. He did so with two early birdies before VanDerLaan had barely played his first hole, but his chances for a win took a serious hit when he bogeyed 18.
The biggest hit came from VanDerLaan himself. After going two-under on the front nine, he birdied five times on the back nine to pull further and further ahead of Lilliedahl and Garcia. The tide turned in his favor on No. 5, a par-3 covering 193 yards that felled Garcia. His tee shot landed in the water left and short of the green, and his first putt rolled around the edge of the cup for a double-bogey while VanDerLaan parred the hole. That two-shot swing put VanDerLaan in front and he never lost the lead after that, even though he was tied with Lilliedahl at one point.
Garcia had a chance to tie the score again on No. 6 when VanDerLaan first came out of the sand and then off the fringe to save par. Garcia's birdie putt was pushed wide, however, and it remained a one-stroke lead for VanDerLaan.
On No. 7, VanDerLaan again found the sand, but again ended up parring the hole, and when he birdied No. 8, his lead over Garcia was up to two strokes. Both players birdied 10 and 12, but the par-3 No. 13 proved to be another critical hole. While Garcia and West Florida's Chandler Blanchet both landed in the bunker left of the green, VanDerLaan was on and parred the hole after narrowly missing a birdie with a long downhill putt. When Garcia bogeyed it, the lead was up to three strokes with only five to play, and VanDerLaan charged down the stretch to distance himself further.
With his seventh win of the season, VanDerLaan set a new school record, surpassing the six wins Klauk had in 1999-2000. It was also his 11th career win, breaking another record previously set by Klauk.
Though VanDerLaan ended up with the Mocs' best score of the day, that honor belonged to Coultas for much of the round. The senior opened with three straight birdies, a hot stretch that helped Florida Southern trim what had been a six-shot deficit behind Barry down to three almost immediately. Anderson birdied three of his first eight holes too, and Michael VanDerLaan dropped in birdies on eight and nine, as the four Moccasin counters were six-under in the early going. They had three bogeys between them on the front nine, one less than Barry, which also had the double from Garcia.
West Florida, which had been second when the day began, was in even worse shape. The Argonauts' four counters combined for five bogeys on the front, as well as two doubles and a triple. That sent them reeling back into fourth place before they were -6 over the final four holes, but the damage was done. By that stage, they had little chance of catching Florida Southern, nor could they get back in front of Barry and Lynn.
Coultas, meanwhile, was pouring it on with four straight birdies from 11 through 14, and he added another on 16, giving him eight for the day. That doubled his total for the tournament and it helped him move up 23 spots into a tie for 12th at four-under-par 212. Only VanDerLaan as the national champion had more birdies in the tournament than Coultas (19-16).
Michael VanDerLaan tied for 20th with a one-under-par 215, marking the second year in a row both he and his brother, along with Coultas, were in the top-20 at the national finals. The -1 equaled his best tournament score of the season, though it was his seventh top-20 finish.
Penny, who had the Mocs' only eagle on Tuesday, slipped to 39th with his 78 on Wednesday and finished with a 220 (-4). His best stretch came from seven to 10 when he had two of his three birdies in the round.
Anderson tied for 50th with his best round of the tournament, and his three early birdies helped set the stage for the Moccasins' comeback. He added two more on the back nine to finish with a 222 (+6) overall.