Freshman Taylor Coffman chipped out of the bunker and made a four-foot putt for par to clinch Nevada's first Western Athletic Conference championship on Wednesday afternoon at the par 72, 7,269-yard Hidden Valley Country Club in Reno.
Nevada shot an 18-over 306 on Wednesday but held on for a one-stroke victory over Hawai'i at the WAC Men's Golf Championships, held Monday-Wednesday, April 30-May 2. The Wolf Pack came into the day with a 10-stroke lead but saw it vanish in Wednesday's blustery conditions. After falling one stroke behind on the back nine at No. 12, Nevada regained the lead for good two holes later and held on for the win with a three-round total of four-under 860 (278-276-306).
"Words can't describe the emotional rollercoaster we had out there today," third-year Nevada head coach Rich Merritt said. "We knew the weather was going to be a factor and were comfortable with that and our lead, but with a young team in a tournament of this magnitude, anything can happen. My cap is off to my guys."
Merritt was named the WAC Coach of the Year, while Coffman swept the WAC Player and Freshman of the Year honors. Coffman, who also earned a spot on the All-WAC first team, becomes the first member of the Wolf Pack to win WAC Player of the Year honors. He is also the third to be named the top player in the team's league and the first since Rich Barcelo was the Big West Conference Player of the Year in 1998. Sophomore Matt Rippy also earned a spot on the All-WAC first team, while freshman Ryan Hallisey was a second-team selection.
Hawai'i turned in the best round of the day at eight-over 294 to finish second with a three-round total of three-under 861 (283-284-294), while Boise State (866) and Fresno State (869) finished third and fourth, respectively. New Mexico State and San Jose State tied for fifth at nine-over 873, followed by Louisiana Tech (877), Idaho (885) and Utah State (889).
"Winning the WAC Championship was our goal at the beginning of the year, and to do it is just an indescribable feeling. We worked hard all year and did things right. We were very confident coming into today. We talked about it and knew the weather was going to be bad," Rippy said. "I got off to a terrible start, but I just kept reminding myself that it's a long day and to keep it together. I finished strong and didn't quit. I gave it my absolute best, and that was enough to get it done."
Coffman led the Wolf Pack with a tie for fifth place individually at two-under 214 (69-69-76), while junior Chase Cooper tied for eighth at even-par 216 (68-72-76). Rippy finished in a tie for 12th at one-over 217 (72-67-78), while Hallisey ended up in a tie for 17th at two-over 218 (69-71-78). Rounding out the Wolf Pack lineup was junior James Haban who tied for 27th at seven-over 223 (78-69-76).
"We've been playing better toward the end of the year and getting better. To win the conference championship feels great," Coffman said. "The weather is going to be what it is, but you don't know what it's like until you get out there. I knew we just needed to stick it out no matter what comes. We hung in there all day and pulled it off."
"For a freshman to pull it out and get up and down like that to win a conference title is phenomenal," Merritt said. "I am so proud of every guy on our team. We lost three great seniors last year. Everyone kept talking about how we were rebuilding and going to be good in the future, but we thought we were pretty good right now. We just kept believing and are peaking at the right time."
Fresno State freshman Grant Doverspike captured individual medalist honors at the WAC Championships with a three-round total of eight-under 208 (66-67-75). He turned in a one-stroke victory over Utah State sophomore Devin Daniels (69-66-74).
With the win, the Wolf Pack earned the league's automatic berth to one of the three NCAA Regionals, which will be held May 17-19. The NCAA Men's Golf Committee will announce the field of 81 teams and 18 individuals for the three NCAA Regionals (27 teams and six individuals at each site) at 3 p.m. Pacific on Monday, May 7.
Georgia Tech will host the East Regional at the Golf Club of Georgia in Alpharetta, Ga., Northern Illinois will host the Central Regional at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill., and Arizona State will host the West Regional at the ASU Karsten Golf Course in Tempe, Ariz.
The top 10 teams from each regional site and the top two individuals not on those advancing teams from each site will earn an invitation to the 2007 NCAA Division I Men's Golf Championships May 30-June 2 in Williamsburg, Va. Virginia Commonwealth University will play host to the 110th annual national tournament on the Gold Course of the Golden Horseshoe Golf Club in Williamsburg, Va.
The men's golf team also becomes the fourth Wolf Pack squad to win a WAC Championship this season, joining the women's soccer (tournament), men's basketball (regular season) and women's swimming (championships) teams.
"I felt a lot of pressure," Merritt said. "Everyone in the athletics department is doing so well and winning championships. I am so proud to be part of the Wolf Pack family and to be able to contribute by winning this championship."