Coming into the 20th rendition of the John Hayt Collegiate Invitational, No. 13 Arkansas was the lowest ranked Top-20 team in the field behind Florida (3), Auburn (9), and LSU (10).
After what is known as the "first collegiate major of the year" at the famed Sawgrass Country Club in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., the Razorbacks team, along with Head Coach Brad McMakin and Assistant Coach Barrett Lais, took home the trophy.
Coming from 7 strokes back of Auburn, the five-man team (counting the best 4 scores each round) won on the strength of a closing 66 by Ethan Tracy, a junior from Hilliard, Ohio, and a 67 by Will Pearson, a freshman from Memphis, Tennessee.
Tracy and Pearson went from shooting the two highest scores the day before to basically lapping the field in much more difficult conditions in the closing round on Tuesday. Whatever Coach McMakin said to them on Monday night was the right thing to say and produced dramatic results.
Arkansas' team score was boosted by Sebastian Cappelen, a freshman from Odense, Denmark who shot 69-70-73 (212) to finish joint second in the individual competition with Auburn's redshirt sophomore Blayne Barber from nearby Lake City, Florida.
Jamie Marshall, a senior from Castle Rock, Colorado contributed to the Arkansas team victory with a 70 in Round 1. Austin Cook, the true Razorback on the team and a sophomore from Jonesboro shot a pivotal 73 in Round 2 to stay within reach of the higher ranked Auburn team.
Auburn, led by Barber (212) and sophomore Michael Hebert (213) from Orlando, finished 2nd two strokes behind Arkansas. LSU, led by Andrew Loupe (216), a senior from Baton Rouge was 3rd another two strokes back of Auburn.
Florida, the top-ranked team in the field of 15 universities, finished T6. There was consolation for the Gators with Phillip Choi winning the individual championship as Matt Every did in 2005, Camilo Villegas in 2002 and Steve Scott in 1999. However in each of those three years Florida walked away with the team title as well.
Choi's 7-under 209 total, with 68-71-70 consistency, was as remarkable as Tracy and Pearson's closing rounds on the difficult par-72 6,895 yard East-West Sawgrass CC that hosted THE PLAYERS Championship from 1977 to 1981.
Some say the premier event on the PGA TOUR was moved across the street to Pete Dye's diabolical Stadium Course because Sawgrass CC, with the stiff ocean breezes, was too difficult for the professional golfers.
The collegiate golfers love coming to Sawgrass CC to enjoy the hospitality of Club President Jim Scielzo and General Manager Barry McDonald.
University of North Florida (UNF) Head Coach Scott Schroeder heads up the tournament with expert help from the operations team at Sawgrass- Director of Golf Greg Lecker, Head Golf Professional Billy Pomeroy and Golf Course Superintendent Matt Durkee.
As the golfers enter the clubhouse they see portraits of PLAYERS' champions Mark Hayes (1977), Jack Nicklaus (1978), Lanny Wadkins (1979), Lee Trevino (1980) and Raymond Floyd (1981).
Talk of inspiration for the youth of the game of golf: There you have four Hall of Famers.
Hayes and Nicklaus won THE PLAYERS at Sawgrass CC with plus-1 totals.
To play Sawgrass CC in a major competition must be a challenging experience, though one that is a good measure of a golfer's ability.
A quick look at current PGA TOUR players in addition to Villegas and Every that have fared well in the Hayt Invitational include Michael Thompson (Alabama), Dustin Johnson (Coastal Carolina), Kevin Chappell (UCLA), Casey Wittenburg (Oklahoma State), D.J. Trahan (Clemson), Brandt Snedeker (Vanderbilt), Bubba Dickersen (Florida), Luke Donald (Northwestern), Carl Pettersson (NC State), and Chris Couch (Florida).
The 2011 tournament will be remembered for the weather that made playing the Ed Seay designed course different each of the three days of competition.
In Round 1 on Sunday, it was warm and calm. Monday brought a south wind and Tuesday a north wind with cooler temperatures to test the players.
Seay, who passed in 2007, teamed up with Arnold Palmer to design more than 250 golf courses worldwide.
"Pugie," as he was known to his friends, masterfully designed the East and West nines to parallel the ocean with the typical east wind playing as a cross wind. The first nine goes counterclockwise and the second nine going clockwise out and back to the clubhouse area.
Changing winds and changing hole directions plus Seay's well-bunkered greens and water on 14 of 18 holes challenges the game's best shot-makers.
The collegiate amateurs did get a taste of the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass courtesy of General Manager Bill Hughes. On Monday evening each team participated in a fun three-hole challenge over the finishing 16, 17 and 18th holes formally known as "The Gauntlet."
Informally, the well-hazarded holes are known as "The Water Closet," encouraging golfers to "flush" their iron shots or get "closeted" out by the water right and long of 16, surrounding the 17th and down the entire left side of 18. If they don't flush 'em they get flushed down the leader board.
The University of Central Florida Knights won the 3-hole competition with a record 6-under par (for the 4 best out of 5 scores) led by Englishman Greg Eason going eagle-birdie on the 16th and 17th. Let's see that on a Sunday during The PLAYERS… can you say the name Craig Perks?
John Hayt, the tournament host, namesake and sponsor with his wife Gerri presided at the awards ceremony. Hayt is a well-known Jacksonville businessman and UNF golf enthusiast.
Local golfers, as well as collegiate golfers, benefit from his generosity playing the unique and innovative Golfplex at UNF that bears his name.
Jacksonville-based companies Swisher International and Web.com were platinum sponsors.
What a golf tournament—a historical setting, a world class golf course, good but challenging weather, great competition and an awesome come-from-behind win by Team Arkansas and an impressive individual championship by Florida's Phillip Choi.
The 2011 John Hayt Collegiate Invitational at Sawgrass Country Club was all it was supposed to be and much more!
There was only one suggestion to improve for next year—Arkansas needs to remember to bring their team flag!
Andy Reistetter is a freelance golf writer covering all four major American golf tours- the PGA TOUR, Champions, Nationwide and LPGA Tours.
Reistetter resides in Pont Vedra Beach, Florida near the PGA TOUR headquarters and home of The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
A lifetime golfer, Andy enjoys volunteering at the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Florida and pursuing his passion for the game of golf and everything associated with it.
Please comment directly on this article or email him at AndyReistetter@gmail.com