May 31, 2013
By Greg Archuleta
UNM Assistant Director of Communications
ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Apparently, lightning does not strike twice in the same place – at least not for the University of New Mexico men’s golf team.
One sunrise after one of the greatest days in program history, the Lobos caught an Alabama team playing at its best and fell 4-1 in Friday’s match play quarterfinals at the NCAA Championship.
“There was really nothing we did wrong; we didn’t play that bad,” coach Glen Millican said. “Alabama is just a great team that played great today. They didn’t win seven tournaments this year because they were lucky. They just had it going.”
Sophomore Gavin Green, whose 4-under 66 Thursday that helped UNM recover from a 27th-place start to finish tied for sixth in stroke play, kept up his stellar play, beating Alabama’s Trey Mullinax 5 and 4 (Green won five more holes that Mullinax with only four holes left to play).
His teammates had to play as well for UNM to have a chance but just couldn’t pull off a charge for a third straight day.
Alabama’s Bobby Wyatt, ranked third in the nation by Golfweek.com, beat sophomore Victor Perez 2 and 1. No. 8 Justin Thomas beat Lobo senior and 13th-ranked James Erkenbeck 4 and 3, the same score as Scott Strohmeyer’s win over fellow UNM senior Benjamin Bauch.
Fourth-ranked Crimson Tide player Cory Whitsett beat New Mexico senior John Catlin 5 and 4, but to indicate how well Whitsett played, consider that Catlin would’ve shot a 1-under 69 had he made pars on his last four holes.
“It wasn’t so much as a buzz saw; I ran into a freight train today,” Catlin said of Whitsett. “He played flawless golf. That can happen on any given day.”
Perez was involved in the closest match of the day. He fell behind on the first hole, tied it on the next, fell behind by two, battled back to all square through 13 and lost two shots on the next four holes.
“It seemed like every time I got back to even, (Wyatt) made a great shot or made something happen. I never got a chance to gain control of the match; I never got the momentum.”
The gallery following the teams favored Alabama, and Bauch said he thought that played a factor.
“It just felt like I was fighting an uphill battle all day,” he said.
For the seniors, who led the team back into the NCAA Championship for the first time since 2007, the loss was as difficult for its significance as the last round of golf during their Lobo career as it was for leaving them 36 holes short of playing for a national championship.
“What I’m sad about is my college career has come to an end – as a student and as a golfer,” Catlin continued. “It’s just now sinking in that I’m done with both of them. It’s not the way I wanted to go out.”
The record will show that UNM lost in the first round of match play at the NCAA Championship, but the team admitted they would’ve accepted that result before the 2012-13 season began.
“I would’ve taken that in a heartbeat,” Bauch said. “Even coming into this tournament, we would’ve taken that.”
Especially considering that the Lobos were tied for 27th after Tuesday’s first round – 22 shots out of the lead, 13 shots out of the top eight and just two shots ahead of last place in the 30-team field.
UNM’s 274 on Wednesday put it in a tie for 15th place but still six shots out of eighth after the second round.
Erkenbeck, who earned PING Division I All-America first-team honors late Thursday night, added that he thought UNM had a great season – a season that included five tournament victories, a Mountain West championship and an NCAA regional championship, but wasn’t in a reflective mood right after the tournament.
“I don’t think we’ve really had much time to reflect,” he said. “I think all of us are still thinking about what we could’ve done differently today.
“I wish that I would’ve played like an All-American today.
Technically, the 2012-2013 UNM team didn’t record the best finish in an NCAA Championship in school history. That honor still belongs to the 1973 team that finished fourth (before the advent of match play that was added in 2009). These Lobos tied for sixth in tournament play, by way of comparison.
But this tournament provided Millican, at least, with an indelible moment.
“Thursday was one of my best days ever in coaching,” he said, referring to UNM’s morning run, five-hour wait to see if it qualified for the final eight and then advanced during a one-hole playoff. “It’s a day I’ll never forget.”