St. Francis trailed Long Island-Brooklyn by such a sizeable margin near the completion of the Northeast Conference men’s golf championship that the majority of the Red Flash headed to dinner rather than wait for the Blackbirds to complete LPGA International Legends Course in Daytona Beach, Fla.
First-year coach Derek Tyson, a former assistant golf professional at Sunnehanna Country Club, stayed behind.
So did sophomore James Ferguson, a Tyrone High School graduate who struggled through the event’s first two days only to put together a strong third, and final, round.
Ferguson’s final round of 73 didn’t look like enough to keep St. Francis in contention for its third conference championship. The Red Flash entered Sunday trailing LIU-Brooklyn by five strokes. That margin ballooned significantly as Day 3 progressed.
“We were 16 strokes back. Everyone on the team probably thought we’d end up in second place. That’s what I thought because we didn’t finish the way we wanted to and we hadn’t played as well this spring as we did in the fall,” Tyson said. “(Ferguson) played a lot on that course and expected a good showing individually, but he really struggled through the first two days.”
Before the start of the third round, Tyson and Ferguson had what the coach called, “an emotional talk.”
“I told him to go out there and dedicate the third round to his grandfather who died recently. It made a difference,” Tyson said. “He shot a 73, which was the low round for our team. Without him, we didn’t have a chance.”
As Tyson and Ferguson waited, members of the LIU-Brooklyn team finished play.
One score came in worse than the next.
Suddenly a 16-stroke deficit turned to six. Then, the Blackbirds’ lead shriveled to a stroke.
“That’s when I started text messaging the guys to get back to the course for a potential playoff,” said Tyson, just the third coach in the
42-year history of golf at St. Francis.
The playoff wasn’t necessary as LIU-Brooklyn continued to falter and St. Francis won the NEC title by four strokes (904-908) and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
“Basically, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Tyson said. “As a program, it helps on the recruiting end. And we’re a young team. Our traveling team is young. There’s tons of potential, and this means a lot to us.”
Sophomore Kevin Fawcett placed second in the individual scoring at the NEC tournament. Freshmen Chris Stricek and Shane Crampton along with junior Jeff Chasteel round out the starting five.
They’re facing a monumental challenge in the NCAA tournament, which begins May 16. The Red Flash are part of the Pullman (Wash.) Regional and, at No. 14, are the lowest-seeded team to tee off next week at Washington State University’s Palouse Ridge Golf Club.
Among those St. Francis will face in three rounds of stroke play is top-seeded and top-ranked California. Texas Christian, Southern California, St. Mary’s (Calif.) and Virginia Tech are seeded second through fifth. The low four scores advance to the NCAA championship beginning May 28 at Capital City Club in Atlanta.
“I figured we would be whatever regional Cal would be in. Our ranking is the lowest of all the teams in the region, so I had a feeling that was going to happen,” Tyson said. “Cal is the No. 1 seed in the country and it’s going to be great just being next to them on the driving range. They’re on a different level.”