Notes and Quotes From Day 4 of the NCAA Division III Men's Golf Championships

Notes and Quotes From Day 4 of the NCAA Division III Men's Golf Championships

NCAA Division III Men's Golf Championships

May 10-13, 2011

Grandover Resort, Greensboro, N.C.


Flash Notes and Quotes – From Friday's final round

Hometown Heroes

As the saying goes, there's no place like home.

Greensboro College, the leader entering the fourth and final round of the NCAA Division III National Championship, played like champs Friday and won the tournament with relative ease.

The team was greatly helped by a five-under-par 67 by its number-one player, fifth-year senior Brock Elder of Randleman, N.C., who calmed himself by singing his favorite songs, "Fantasy" and "Always Be My Baby."

"I started off singing and didn't stop,'' he said.

The Pride's 1167 total was six shots ahead of runner-up Illinois Wesleyan University. It was Greensboro's second national title after winning the 2000 Division III crown in Battle Creek, Mich. 

Greensboro had a solid team effort. In addition to Elder's 67, junior Ben Nihart shot a one-under 71, freshman Josh Nichols had a 75 and junior Josh Nichols of Waxhaw, N.C., shot 77. Each of the five-member teams eliminated the highest score of each round. On Friday, Greensboro senior Connor Kennedy just missed with a 78.

Greensboro started talking about winning the title after Wednesday's second round of the four-day event. Head coach Dirk Finnie put a stop to such confident musings.

"I told them after two days we couldn't talk about it," said Finnie, in his second year at GC. "That was really a big issue with me. It's too dog-gone hard to win these things."

Finnie's strategy of stressing playing golf instead of spending too much time on the practice range during the season also paid off, he believes.

"We played a lot of golf. I think they got frustrated with me sometimes," he said, explaining that he divided the team into "A" and "B" groups. They played each other often in a season-long competition. He knew the idea was working last fall at a tournament at the Cardinal in Greensboro when the A team finished third and the B team placed fourth.

A perfect tournament wasn't preceded by a perfect spring season. Greensboro was favored to win the USA South Athletic Conference title, but wound up third. There were several other tournaments when the team lost leads entering the final round.

Not this time, although it trailed briefly Friday, but quickly regained the lead.

"I didn't look at a scoreboard all day," said Elder of the six boards stationed around Grandover's East Course. "I didn't want to know. There's enough pressure out here."

Adding to the tension was the gallery." It was more people than I had ever played in front of," he said.

The hillside that arcs around the 18th green was filled with people standing and other sitting in golf carts. Guys with hand-held TV cameras scurried about. This was the first time the tournament was webcast over the Internet.

Despite Finnie's belief that his students may have become discouraged by his coaching methods, the players said just the opposite. Elder said he and the coach know how to communicate on the course and off. They said Finnie kept them motivated throughout the season. Even though the team was at home, Finnie made them gather each morning at the campus - empty after graduation. They went to Smith Street Dinner for breakfast and then rode together to the course as a team, instead of driving as individuals.

As for being national champions, "We couldn't have done it without Dirk," said Elder.

The team thanked Finnie by tossing him into the water hazard that borders the 18th green.

Elder made no apology for having an advantage over the rest of the 205-man field at this week's tourney. He considers Grandover his home course and held a job there. It left him time to play the courses, experience that let him relax, he said. He knew the yardage, the roll of the greens and where to hit and not to hit shots.

He thinks it was ordained that he spent so much time at Grandover for three years before the NCAA brought the national tournament here.

"He put me here at Grandover," Elder says of the Lord, "for some reason." 

Centre's Morris Finishes On Top

He could have taken the easy way and three-putted the last green. He had a four-shot lead and a lengthy putt that climbed a steep slope to the hole.

Instead, Chris Morris studied the putt, looked at it from every angle, huddled with his coach, and then rolled the putt to within two inches of the cup.

The Centre (Ky.) College senior won the individual title at the Men's NCAA Division III National Championship Friday. His final-round 71 went with a 67, 65 and 71 in the first three rounds, giving him a 14-under par total. He defeated defending national champion Tain Lee of California's Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges. Lee finished 10-under par for four rounds. 

As Morris walked off the green and signed his scorecard, it hadn't hit him that he was the national champ.

"I don't want to think about it," he said. "I'll get too emotional."

It wasn't as easy as the final totals indicated. Morris made a triple bogey on his second hole and allowed Lee, who was making birdies, to almost catch up. But Morris birdied the next hole and settled down. He made four birdies on the front nine and was one-under at the turn.

"Tain is a great player and I figured he would make a push," Morris said of the California golfer, who shot a two-under 70 Friday.

The gallery included Morris' parents, his brother, his sister and his grandfather. He posed for photos with his father and grandfather. The grandfather, D.J. Denis Morris, was thankful he made the trip to Greensboro.

"He's a wonderful, hardworking young man," he said. "I didn't get there for any of his other tournaments. I picked the right one. This is the highlight of my life."


Grandover's Designers

When the subject of golf course architects arises, the names Rees Jones, Tom Fazio, Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer are heard most often. 

Don't overlook the work of Gary Panks of Arizona, who in association with pro golfer David Graham, designed the east and west courses at the Grandover Resort and Conference Center in the late 1990s. Both courses received glowing reviews from players, coaches and spectators at this week's NCAA Division III Men's Golf Championship. 

Panks heads a firm that has designed 30 courses in Arizona alone. He also has done design work in Australia, Canada, Mexico and Thailand. He and former partner Graham did their only North Carolina project at Grandover.

The name David Graham should be familiar to serious golf fans. He won two majors, the 1979 PGA at Oakland Hills in Michigan and the 1981 U.S. Open at Merion in Massachusetts. He won on the Senior Tour, now known as the Champions Tour, before heart problems forced his retirement.


Greensboro – North Carolina's Tournament Town

The host city of Greensboro made a host of new friends this week at the NCAA Men's Division III golf championship at Grandover Resort.

Connie Bunge, who came all the way from California to watch her son, Eric, of the University of La Verne in the Golden State, said the city, host school Guilford College and the Greensboro Sports Commission outperformed last year's site, Hershey, Pa.

"You are way above Hershey," she said. "They took care of the players, but not the spectators. Here they took care of everybody."

She glanced around the Grandover setting.

"You don't get this back home. You don't get the trees and the beautiful topography," said the Southern California resident.

"I'm hosting next year," said golf coach Jim Owen of Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. "The NCAA and Grandover have raised the bar, not just one notch, but two. I'm going to have to start tomorrow ratcheting it up."

Lee Richter, coach of LaGrange College, another Georgia institution, said, "I've been to 11 national championships all over the country and I can't think of any where we have been treated so nicely. People are always asking if you need anything. I hate to leave, really."

"It has been fantastic," said Chuck Wesko, an upstate New York resident who came down to see his nephew, Mike Wesko, play for Methodist University. "We have been having a great time."

Regarding Grandover's courses, with a tall hotel a backdrop to several holes and huge homes and condominiums bordering fairways, Wesko said, "Beautiful and in fantastic shape. The holes are very scenic."

Glowing comments also came from came from NCAA officials.

"It's been phenomenal," said Denise Udelhofen, chair of the Division III Men's Golf Committee. "Volunteers made this tournament. Here we have had great volunteers. The Grandover staff is terrific. The courses, both of them, have been great."

She couldn't say for sure if the tournament will return, but believes the NCAA "definitely will consider it."

There have been rumors this week that the city may be a possibility for an NCAA Division I Men's Golf Championship, but future sites have not been selected beyond 2013. Donnie Wagner, assistant director at the NCAA for championships in Division I, II and III, did say a Division I men's regional tournament, with about 14 teams and individual players, will be held next year at Forest Oaks Country Club in Greensboro.