The University of Dallas men’s golf team competed in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) Championship Tournament last Monday and Tuesday, April 22 and 23, hosted at Vaaler Creek Golf Club in Blanco, Texas. The conference tournament was the fourth consecutive 54-hole tournament the team has played in this spring.
The Crusader quintet was made up of juniors Erik Hamm and Jacob Wade and sophomores Emilio Montalvo, Seth McNeill and Robby Evans. The 2019 tournament was the third conference tournament appearance for both Hamm and Wade and the second appearance for Evans, while Montalvo and McNeill made their championship debut.
The Crusaders ranked 43rd in the NCAA Division-III before the tournament, but faced stiff competition from their SCAC rivals. Schreiner University, Texas Lutheran University (TLU) and Southwestern University all ranked ahead of UD at 41st, 25th and 7th, respectively. UD saw both TLU and Southwestern just three weeks earlier in the West Regional Invitational, where they finished fourth.
“SCAC is a pretty small conference, so competition can get pretty tight,” Montalvo said. “[Shreiner, TLU, Southwestern] and us all had a chance of winning the tournament, as we all have quality players.”
Texas Lutheran University came into the tournament hot, finishing in second place at both the Texas Cup and West Regional Invitational. Southwestern entered Monday as the three-year reigning champions of the SCAC and having just beaten TLU in the West Regional Invitational by one stroke. In spite of their strong opponents, the Crusaders were confident as they entered the tournament.
“Coming into the week we were pretty confident we were going to have a good chance of winning,” Hamm said. “The week before we played well in Rhodes and beat teams ranked higher than us, so we were confident we had the ability to get the job done.”
The Crusaders took control of the first round, charging out to a six-stroke lead over both TLU and Southwestern. UD shot 295 as a team for the first round, while TLU and Southwestern both shot 301.
After one round, Wade was tied with TLU’s Colin Uecker with a score of 71, for first place in the individual standings. Montalvo shot 72 for the first round, Hamm shot 75 and McNeill shot 77. Evans’ score of 78 was discounted, as only the top four scores per round are counted toward the team score.
The Crusaders continued their momentum in round two, repeating their first round score of 295. UD gained one stroke on TLU and 10 on Southwestern, who shot 296 and 305, respectively.
“There was a feeling of confidence within the team,” Montalvo said. “We knew we were playing well, so all we had to do was execute properly the last day.”
In the second round, Hamm led the team, shooting 71 for the round. Montalvo shot his second 72 of the tournament, and Wade and Evans both scored 76. At the end of Monday’s rounds, Montalvo, Hamm and Wade were 2nd, 3rd and 4th in the individual standings, right behind Uecker. Montalvo shot 144 for the first two rounds, Hamm shot 146 and Wade shot 147.
The Crusader faithful anxiously waited for Tuesday’s final round, while the golf team entered the final day calmly and relaxed.
“It was not that much different than any other tournament,” Hamm said. “We were cracking jokes and having a good time during the team meeting. Coach didn’t do or say anything different, and it worked.”
In the final round, Montalvo and Uecker were paired together as playing partners. The first and second lowest scorers of the tournament swapped places in the early holes, as Montalvo shot two under par to improve to -2 while Uecker shot two over par to fall to -1. However, the rest of the TLU team picked up the slack as TLU erased Dallas’ seven-stroke lead.
As the day progressed, Montalvo and Uecker swapped places again as Uecker began to shoot under par again. Fortunately for the Crusaders, Dallas picked up their game and regained their seven-stroke lead. The tide began to ebb on Dallas for a second time that day, as TLU managed to tie Dallas again with only a few rounds to go. UD refused to crack under the relentless attack of TLU and took the lead back again as the finish line drew near. Additionally, the Crusaders had to deal with an unfavorable atmosphere.
“I’ll be honest, it kind of felt like an away game,” Hamm said. “There were a lot of TLU and Southwestern supporters, because it is so close to their campuses. Like when I eagled the first hole and birdied the last two holes, I was expecting some claps but it was dead silent. I was like ‘geez man, it’s pretty impressive to eagle the first hole and no one clapped … this is an away game,’ but I didn’t really care about them not clapping and stuff, because at the end my championship ring was too loud to hear anything.”
Southwestern, who started the day virtually out of the running, stormed back to tie TLU and get to within just three strokes from UD with less than five rounds to go.
As the early starters from each team concluded their tournament, TLU began inching back one more time, making up stroke by stroke in the final holes. When only the final two golfers from each school were left and only one hole remained, TLU had pulled to two strokes behind Dallas. As Evans’ score was the fifth score for Dallas for the second time in the tournament, only Montalvo’s score remained to decide the Crusader’s fate. Montalvo birdied on the 18th hole while TLU lost a stroke, giving the Crusaders a four-stroke victory to become SCAC champions. In spite of all this drama, the Crusaders had no idea any of this happened.
“During the tourney, I didn’t look at the scoreboard once,” Hamm said. “I just told myself to play my game and ignore everything else, and it worked.”
“[It was a] funny thing actually,” Montalvo said. “The whole day I never checked the leaderboard, so I never knew where the team was, I was just trying to do my best. Coming into the last hole I had absolutely no clue what I had to do, but I could feel that it was a tight race, which naturally made me very nervous. Fortunately, I stepped up and hit what was probably the best shot of my life, almost making a hole in one in the last hole.”
Montalvo’s birdie gave him a 73 for the round, for a 217 overall score. Hamm shot his second 71 to also shoot 217, tying both of them for second individually. Wade repeated his second round of 76 and tied for 6th with a 223. McNeill also shot 76 for the round and 232 for all three rounds. Uecker won the SCAC medalist honors with his low score of 211.
“I know Colin pretty well, as I had played with him a couple of times,” Montalvo said. “He is the best player at TLU, and they’re gonna miss him a lot when he graduates next month. I was very excited that I had a chance to win the tournament, and I tried my hardest but unfortunately, I caught a couple of bad breaks and Colin played very well down the stretch.”
Montalvo and Hamm earned All-SCAC 1st team and Wade earned All-SCAC 2nd team. Even though only three of the five won All-Conference honors, all five deserve praise for bringing home the team trophy.
“Everyone contributed this week,” Hamm said. “We just needed everyone to play well and click at the same time to win, and that is exactly what happened.”
“Erik played some incredible golf and was probably the key to winning,” Montalvo said. “It was also very important that we had countable scores by the guys that didn’t play that well, keeping us in the mix.
The golf team’s victory gives UD its first conference championship since joining the SCAC in 2011. The golf team’s title is also the first conference championship UD has won since the volleyball team won the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) in 2009.
“It feels great to get this title for the school,” Montalvo said. “I didn’t realize it was the first SCAC championship we have won in any sport until recently, and that just makes this victory more meaningful.”
The SCAC Championship Tournament concludes the golf team’s 2019 season. UD does have a chance to go to the national tournament in May, but since the SCAC does not have an automatic bid to nationals, the Crusaders must wait until the at-large bids are announced on May 6.