By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
MUSCLE SHOALS, Ala. – The 2014-15 season finally reached an end for the Tennessee Tech men's golf team Sunday afternoon, as the Golden Eagles capped a tumultuous three days of consistent golf with a second-place showing at the Ohio Valley Conference Championships at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at The Shoals.
After firing round of 290 in each of the first and second rounds, the Golden Eagle squad came back with a 293 over the final 18 holes of competition, tying with both Belmont and Murray State for second place with an overall three-day score of 873. Eastern Kentucky took home the tournament title, winning by five strokes in large part due to its second-round tally of 280. For Tech, it marked the best finish in the OVC Championships since tying for first (and falling to EKU in a playoff) in the 2006 tournament.
Junior Mitch Thomas led the way for the Tech squad, capturing All-Tournament honors after tying for fifth with a final overall score of 215. The Knoxville native matched his second-round output of 70 over the final 18 holes, helping the Golden Eagles to their second-place finish. Brendon Caballero of UT Martin took home medalist honors with a final score of 211, edging out Jacksonville State's Tomasz Anderson by one stroke.
For Thomas, it marked his third consecutive All-Tournament honor this season, as well as the fourth straight top 10 finish. In fact, the junior placed sixth or better in each of the final four events for the Golden Eagles this year, lowering his scoring average to an impressive 73.33, just barely behind his mark of 73.25 one year ago.
Next among the Tech finishes was fellow junior Bryce Kendrick, who just missed out on a top 10 finish by tying for 11th overall after a third-round 73. For the tournament, he shot extremely consistent golf, carding first and second rounds of 73 and 72, respectively, to finish with a 218 for the event.
As they did all tournament long, seniors Mason Griffin and Lee Whitehead matched each other for the third consecutive round on Sunday, posting matching 75s to tie for 19th overall and conclude their Golden Eagle careers. Both golfers managed 221 for their three-day totals, mimicking each other with 72s over the first 18 holes and 74s in the second round.
Rounding out the Golden Eagle participants was freshman Alexander Riddle. The youngster fell just one stroke back from matching Whitehead's and Griffin's paces, firing a 222 overall after a third-round 75. He tallied a first-round 73 and a 74 on the second day of play.
The 2014-15 season left plenty of memories in the minds of both the Tech golf team and its fans, highlighted by the program's first tournament championship in over eight years. The Golden Eagles captured the Big Blue Intercollegiate title after dropping a school-record 19-under par, 269 in the final round of the event. That came just two days after setting the school mark in the first round with an 11-under, 277.
Thomas' final 54-hole score at the event, relative to par, of 13-under finished behind just one other in all-time Tech history, falling three strokes behind Stallings' near-impossible -16, set in the fall of 2005. The junior's 203, which came courtesy of rounds of 66, 73 and 64, matched the second-best 54-hole mark completed by Barrett Steakley in 2007.
The Knoxville native's final 18 holes helped him tie the program mark for single round relative to par, matching the eight-under, 64 recorded by Randy Darcy in 1972 and the eight-under, 63 run off by current PGA Tour pro Scott Stallings.
As a team, the Golden Eagles posted the second-lowest stroke average for a season since 2005-06, falling to just last year's mark. Tech averaged 293.77 per round on the year, barely trailing last year's average of 293.44. Both scores fell behind the 2005-06 mark of 291.16.
Whitehead led the way for the year in terms of individual scoring average, posting the lowest number of his career in the purple and gold. The wiley veteran wrapped up an impressive three-year campaign as a Golden Eagle with a mark of 72.63. It represented the lowest single-season stroke average since Scott Stallings' 70.9 following his senior campaign.
Photo by the Ohio Valley Conference