The 2019 Sunshine State Conference Men's Golf Championships begin Sunday at Lake Jovita Golf and Country Club in Saint Leo where Florida Southern will join 10 other schools for the three-round, 54-hole tournament played on the club's north course. It's the seventh time the SSC Championships have been held at Lake Jovita, and the University of Tampa is this year's host school.
The SSC Championships run Sunday through Tuesday with one round played each day. First-round pairings are determined by the Golfstat team rankings, with second and third-round pairings based on team scores up to that point. All groups will tee off hole number one all three days, but starting times vary. On Sunday and Tuesday, tee times begin at 10:30 a.m. with 10-minute intervals between groups. Monday's tee times begin at 8:30 a.m. and again have 10-minute intervals.
Links to all information pertaining to the championships, including live scoring, exact tee times for each group, and tournament history, may be found at the SSC Championships Home Page.
Scoring will consist of stroke play for all three rounds, with teams playing 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, then 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 one-hole playoff to determine the SSC individual champion.
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 23 national championships in men's golf, and 22 of those have come since 1981, including the last seven. Furthermore, those seven titles have been won by five different SSC schools, including Florida Southern in 2017, and Lynn last year. Since Division II went to a match/medal play format to decide its national champion in 2011, there has been at least one SSC team in the championship match every year, and on four occasions, two SSC teams have gone head-to-head for the national title.
Florida Southern, under first-year head coach Lee White, is one of seven nationally ranked teams in the SSC Tournament and all of them are 19th or higher. That list includes four of the top five teams in the country according to the latest Bushnell Golfweek Division II Coaches Poll. At the top is Barry, which has been ranked No. 1 in the nation for six consecutive polls. Lynn is ranked No. 2, Florida Southern is No. 4, and Florida Tech is No. 5. Completing the list of nationally ranked SSC teams are No. 7 Nova Southeastern, No. 14 Saint Leo, and No. 19 Rollins.
The April 12 NCAA South Region rankings have SSC schools holding seven of the top eight positions, with Florida Southern No. 5. West Florida at No. 3 is the only non-SSC school among the top eight. That poll is used to determine which 10 teams from the South Region will play in the NCAA Tournament.
The Moccasins have played their usual brand of top-flight tournaments this season and have already defeated every other team in the SSC that they have played this season. (The Mocs have yet to face Embry-Riddle, Palm Beach Atlantic, or Tampa.) The Moccasins are one of only two teams to finish ahead of top-ranked Barry in any tournament this season, doing so in their most recent encounter at the Bobcat Invitational, and they have also beaten defending national champion Lynn on two occasions.
Florida Southern's lineup will feature freshman Max Coutsolioutsos, senior Christian Anderson, senior Michael VanDerLaan, junior junior Chase Ibbotson, and freshman Johnny Tucker. It's the same group fielded by White in the last four regular season tournaments. That includes the Bobcat Invitational in mid-March, where the Moccasins defeated Barry and were runner-up to Lynn; and the Newberry Invitational in mid-February where they defeated Lynn and had another runner-up finish.
Coutsolioutsos and VanDerLaan have strikingly similar numbers this year and are separated by only three total strokes over the course of the season. Coutsolioutsos owns a 73.55 average, and VanDerLaan is at 73.66. Both golfers have two top-five and three top-10 finishes, though VanDerLaan has a slightly higher individual winning percentage. Each has been an SSC Men's Golfer-of-the-Week once this semester, and each has been Florida Southern's top golfer in three tournaments. (Coutsolioutsos was also their top performer in a dual match against Columbia.)
Anderson is playing in his fourth SSC Championships and has climbed in the standings each year. He finished 33rd as a freshman, 17th as a sophomore, and 14th last year with a season-best one-under-par 212. He's third on the team this year with a 74.48 stroke average, but his career average of 74.41 is the best among the current group of Moccasin veterans.
Ibbotson is making his second appearance at the conference championships after tying for 26th as a freshman two years ago. He's played in all 10 events for the Moccasins this season with a career-best 74.66 stroke average, and has finished as high as sixth this year, which he did in a field of 90 at the Cougar Invitational.
Like Coutsolioutsos, Tucker is playing in the conference championships for the first time. He made seven appearances during the regular season with a 74.60 stroke average. Tucker debuted with an 18th-place finish at the Copperhead Championship and was 17th at the Bobcat Invitational facing many of the same golfers in this week's tournament.
Florida Southern has won the SSC title more than any other school, claiming 16 of the league's 37 championship tournaments. (It was first held in 1977, but was not played from 1986-90.) The Mocs' most recent title came in 2010. The Mocs have also had the most individual titlists with 10, since complete tournament records are available dating back to 1982.
Florida Tech won its first SSC title last year after setting the single-round tournament scoring record -16 on the final day, and tying the overall record of -19. The Panthers finished four shots ahead of Florida Southern and six ahead of third-place Barry, with all three 13-under-par or better. Those scores represented three of the seven lowest in tournament history, and Nova Southeastern had the best fourth-place score at -9. Florida Southern, Barry, and Lynn all went on to reach the medal play portion of the national tournament and finished 1-2-3 during stroke play before Lynn won the Division II title.
Nova Southeastern's Juan Jose Guerra was the individual champion with an 11-under-par 202, which was one stroke shy of the tournament scoring record. That gave him a two-stroke margin of victory over Barry's Niclas Weiland, with Florida Southern's John Coultas and Florida Tech's Max O'Hagan tied for third at -8. Guerra and Weiland are now seniors and two of the five highest ranked individual golfers in Division II. O'Hagan is also back for his junior year and is one of three Panthers who played in last year's SSC Championships. He has placed in the top-five in each of the last two SSC Championships. The last player to win two individual titles was Nova Southeastern's Greg O'Mahony in 2008 and '09.
Following the SSC Championships, selections for the NCAA playoffs will be announced on Friday night, April 26. 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, which is being played this year on the El Campeon Course at the Mission Inn Resort in Howey-In-The-Hill, Florida, May 9-11. The NCAA Division II National Finals are May 21-25 at The Resort at Glade Springs in Daniels, West Virginia.