By Murray Evans
PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 21, 2012) – If it seems a bit early in the academic year to be playing for a national championship, Oklahoma Christian men’s golf coach David Lynn feels the same way.
It was less than five months ago when OC finished as the runner-up in the NAIA Championship in Salem, Ore. Since then, OC has left the NAIA, begun the NCAA Division II membership process and joined the NCCAA. With OC ineligible for NCAA post-season competition, that makes the NCCAA Championship – set to start a three-day run Monday – the primary focus for the Eagles.
Playing for a national championship in the fall “is different,” Lynn said. “With the way that it’s forced into this semester, us only having played three tournaments before we go to nationals, it’s difficult.”
The fall date for the NCCAA Championship has forced Lynn to revamp his coaching style. In the past, OC’s fall campaigns had been more relaxed, with an emphasis on developing players on the roster. This year, in those three tournaments, Lynn had the challenging task of quickly – in golf terms – selecting the five players who would make the trip to Florida.
In the end, he went with his four returning NAIA All-Americans from the spring – seniors Vilhelm Bogstrand and Logan Herbst and juniors Jared Consoli and Alasdair Dalgliesh – along with the Eagles’ top player this fall, freshman Sam Johnston.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Lynn said. “Most coaches aren’t in the situation where they have too many good players.”
On paper, OC would figure to be the favorite among the 18 teams that will play this week on the par-72, 6,831-yard course. The Eagles placed in the top four at the NAIA Championship for 13 straight years, winning national titles in 2009 and 2011 and finishing as the runner-up five times, including in 2012. Lynn sees no reason that run of success shouldn’t continue.
“It’s just another tournament,” he said. “We try to treat the national tournament like that every year anyway. Obviously it’s at a different point in the season, but I specifically took two weeks off for us to practice just like we would for a national tournament in May, to work on our games, to get mentally focused, to work on the last little things you want to work on before you go.”
Last year’s NCCAA champ, California Baptist, isn’t back to defend its crown. OC’s Heartland Conference rival, Dallas Baptist (Texas), is one of four teams in the field to have won the NCCAA title, having done so in 2009. The others are Malone (Ohio), which won in 1999, 2000, 2004 and 2008; Indiana Wesleyan, which won in 2005 and 2006, and Southeastern (Fla.), which won in 2007.
Point Loma Nazarene (Calif.) and Union (Tenn.), which finished 13th and 21st, respectively, in the 2012 NAIA Championship, also will be in the NCCAA field.
The other teams in the tournament will be Campbellsville (Ky.), Central Baptist (Ark.), Colorado Christian, Emmanuel (Ga.), McMurry (Texas) of the Heartland Conference, North Greenville (S.C.), Roberts Wesleyan (N.Y.), Shorter (Ga.), Southern Wesleyan (S.C.), Southwestern Christian and Trevecca Nazarene (Tenn.).
According to golfstat.com, OC ranks third in NCAA Division II in comparative wins. Johnston, with a 69.22 stroke average, leads Division II in that category, while Bogstrand is 31st (71.56) and Herbst and Consoli are tied for 50th (72.11).
“We do feel really good about our chances to compete at this tournament,” Lynn said. “We’ve seen most of the teams over the years. … We could get down there and play against some teams and get surprised, but I think for the most part, we have that general expectation that we’re going to go win.
“You can’t fabricate that expectation. That comes from years of winning and it’s a culture on the team. You can’t make that happen. The only thing that makes that happen is winning and we have that. I just think that’s a huge advantage.”
Despite the challenges posed by a fall championship season, Lynn said he’s grateful to the OC administration – including Athletic Director Curtis Janz and Vice President for Finance Jeff Bingham – for allowing OC to join the NCCAA to give its student-athletes post-season opportunities while the university goes through the NCAA membership process.
“We are so appreciative of that opportunity,” Lynn said.
It will be the eighth time since 2004 the NCCAA men’s tournament has been held at The Hombre Golf Club. The course also has hosted some PGA Tour Qualifying School second-stage events as well as an annual Hooters Tour event.