BATON ROUGE, La. — To be certain, it was just another of golf’s many quirks. The LSU men’s golf program, a five-time national champion, entered this week having never won a regional title.
That changed Wednesday afternoon at the University Club.
Sophomore Sam Burns overcame a rough back nine to win the individual title at 4-under par (65-72-75—212), and the Tigers defended their home course with an 8-stroke win over Duke for the team title. LSU will go for its second national championship in the last three years May 26-31 at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill.
“It’s really hard to imagine that it’s the first time given all the great players that have come through LSU,” said Tigers coach Chuck Winstead. “But we’ll take it. This is another tournament, and it means a lot. We needed to show up and take care of business. But the next one will be an even onto its own. We’ll have to get acclimated to the golf course in Chicago. But I believe in my guys.”
Behind Burns, LSU’s scoring players in the final round were Luis Gagne (-1), Eric Ricard (+2), and Philip Barbaree (+2).
Burns, a Shreveport native, outdueled Oregon’s Wyndham Clark for the individual crown. Clark, who shot 3-under for the tournament and 1-under on the day, came into the postseason as the only golfer in the country ranked higher than Burns.
“Sam’s had as good as year as has ever been had around here,” Winstead said. “He’s in the conversation for national player of the year along with the other young man that was here. I guess I shouldn’t say young man, these guys are men. But Sam is showing each time he tees it up that he should be right at the top of that list.”
It looked like Burns would blow Clark and the rest of the field out of the water, but the stiff winds at University Club finally caught up to him on the back nine. Burns had a seven-shot lead of 9-under when he took the turn, but bogeyed 10, 11 and 12 to trickle back towards the rest of the field.
“This place can really play tough when the wind starts blowing and we have tournament pins,” said Burns, who shot a collegiate course record of 65 in the first round Monday.
Burns’ adventures didn’t cease after the 12th hole. He yanked a drive into the water on No. 14 and had to make an 8-foot bogey putt to keep the hole from turning into a disaster.
“That was an unfortunate tee shot,” Burns said. “You’ve got to get it into the fairway there. It was nice to save the bogey, for sure.”
Burns three-putted 16 for another bogey, and couldn’t take advantage of a 328-yard drive down the middle as he settled for par on the par-5 17th. It wasn’t until a near-perfect approach to the 18th green that Burns knew he’d stave off Clark, who was already in the clubhouse.
“The second shot on 18 was kind of a make-or-break moment,” Burns said. “That’s one of the two or three hardest holes on the golf course, and two hit that second shot was good.”
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Burns has finished in the top 10 of every tournament he’s played in this year.
“I can’t say that coming into the year I would’ve expected that,” Burns said. “Obviously you expect to play well every tournament you play in. But it shows that we’re prepared every week. Not only myself but the four other guys too.”
Burns wouldn’t come out and say the national tournament will be his final appearance for LSU, but he certainly didn’t rule out the possibility.
“I’m not sure [that this was my last home round],” Burns said. “I was trying to stay focused on what we had going on out there.”
Burns said he won’t make a decision to go pro until after the Walker Cup, a biennial international amateur event that will be played this September in Los Angeles.
Baton Rouge Regional Scoring
Top 5 team scores (all advance to national tournament)
|Team||Round 1||Round 2||Round 3||Total|
|Jacksonville U.||294||300||289||883 (+19)|
Top 10 individual scores (top individual from non-qualifying team advances)
Sam Burns, LSU — 65-72-75—212 (-4)
Wyndham Clark, Oregon — 72-70-71—213 (-3)
Luis Gagne, LSU — 72-73-71—216 (E)
Chandler Eaton, Duke — 74-69-73 (E)
Alex Smalley, Duke — 71-71-74 (E)
Mason Overstreet, Arkansas — 73-78-67 (+2)
David Wicks, Jacksonville — 74-74-71 (+3)
Dylan Wu, Northwestern — 77-73-69 (+3)
Norman Xiong, Oregon — 72-75-72 (+3)
Tyler McDaniel, Kentucky — 73-75-71 (+3)
Eric Ricard, LSU — 68-77-74 (+3)