PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Prairie View A&M University golf coach Kevin Jennings has a long history with today’s PGA WORKS Collegiate Championship. He played in the event when it was the National Minority College Championship when he was a high school student, competed as a college player, and coached Talladega College for a title in what was then the NAIA division for smaller schools.
However, he had never before won the Men’s Division 1 title at PGA WORKS. Until Wednesday. On a windy and difficult day on one of the toughest and most historic tracks on the PGA TOUR – the daunting stadium ground at TPC Sawgrass – Jennings Panthers came from behind, first catching Howard University, and then holding back the stubborn state of Alabama to take the titles. Three-time Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) champion Prairie View shot 6:30 p.m. at the stadium on Wednesday, a feat only surpassed by Alabama State (303). Florida A&M and Howard, the 36-hole leader, finished third and fourth, respectively.
“I put on the back of our t-shirts, ‘Trust the Process,’ and it’s weird how things go from time to time,” Jennings said. “Yes, it’s a great feeling. … It just feels great to be with these guys and to be successful. That’s a good group. ”
In the Women’s Team Division, Texas A&M Corpus Christi scored a 28-shot victory over the State of Delaware. The islanders shot 24 out of 312 on the Dye’s Valley Course, led by Lucy Martinez, who shot a final round 74. Baipor Khunsi (5 over 221) from the US state of Delaware was the division medalist and defeated Madison Lake (Texas A&M Kingville) by four shots.
“Yesterday when we were playing in the stadium I was walking down the fairway by 16 and saw all the people and cameras. I said, ‘I feel like I’m on the PGA TOUR,” said Martinez, a sophomore from Aguascalientes, Mexico. “It was great.”
Phu Khine, a junior at UNC-Wilmington from Myanmar, shot 76 on the stadium for an overall three-point win of 2 to 218 to win the women’s singles title, while University of Alabama-Birmingham’s Khavish Varadan won the men’s singles crown .
Varadan, a freshman, hadn’t seen the Stadium Course since playing at the stadium four years ago when he was 17 in the Junior Players Championship. He would put together the most impressive route of the week. When he tee-off on the 10th hole of the Stadium Course early on Wednesday and played his first eight holes in 5 under par in wind speeds of 24 km / h. In the par 5-11 he stood up and down for birdie; Birdied 13 (8 feet) and 15 by in narrow; got up and down from the left side of the par-5 16th for birdie; and hit a knocked down riving knife that came off 8 feet on the 17th island. The birdie putt was three feet off and Varadan poured it in, building on his success in transitioning to the armlock putting style in the recent Conference USA Championship, where he finished second.
“He broke that glass barrier with his putting and that held him back,” said UAB assistant coach Ryan Heisey. What impressed Heisey most about Varadan? “I’m really impressed with how calm he stays even when he gets to some places that weren’t ideal. He just focuses on the next shot. Quiet. That’s how he is. Can’t tell if he’s 5 under or 5 out there and that’s a good quality. ”
Even with a bogey at the age of 18, Varadan turned 32, leaving five shots behind his closest competitor, Appalachian State’s 36-hole co-leader Timothius Tamardi. Varadan went down on his final hole (the ninth par-5) at 4 o’clock, tried to reach the green in half, cut a tree, got a bad kick and ended on a double to make his second 2-under- 70 shoot in the stadium. The last hole did little to dampen his mood. He didn’t have much time to celebrate. He had an 8:00 p.m. start time on Thursday in a local US Open qualifier in Panama City.
“You know your game is good when you play well on golf courses like this,” said Malaysian-born Varadan. “I really wanted to test myself this week. I’m pretty impressed … It wasn’t my best stuff, but below par on a golf course like this is a bit of good golf. “
Division II of the men’s division went to Miles College in Alabama, where three players, including medalist Anthony Lumpkin (76-231), made it into the top 10. The medalist in the Men’s Division 1 field was Howard’s Gregory Odom Jr., who competed this week after losing his father Greg Sr. to liver complications in Memphis on Saturday. Odom, a junior, told his coach he wanted to stay and compete, and his mother thought it was best too. It is the first title of any kind for Howard, who only restarted his golf program 13 months ago with financial support from NBA All-Star Steph Curry. Coach Sam Puryear has seen many victories in many levels of college golf, but said none made him prouder than watching Odom win. He shot 74 at the stadium on Wednesday and ended his week at 4 against 220.
“No other player in this field had a heavier heart than this kid,” said Puryear of Odom, who was his very first bison recruit. “To do what he did and to hold on to your feelings until the end, how do you do that? I just don’t know which is better.
This week’s PGA WORKS Collegiate Championship featured 23 teams and 52 individuals across five divisions that include historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic institutions, and minority institutions. This was the 35th edition of the event where PWCC 2020 was canceled due to COVID-19. On Sunday, student athletes took part in a Career Expo in the new PGA Tour Headquarters.
It was the last stop of spring for many teams, but Prairie View A&M is not finished with its season as it received its regional application for the NCAA championships to represent the SWAC on Wednesday afternoon. The Panthers play on their side with verve from May 17-19 at the University of New Mexico.
Coach Jennings boarded a charter bus with the team in Ponte Vedra Beach Wednesday night, hoping to make it to Mobile, Ala., To finish the 14-hour drive home to Texas. For Jennings, the trip will be very special when he has the PGA WORKS Collegiate Championship trophy by his side. It’s been a week he won’t forget.
Given the venue and the general spirit of competition, it was also a week like this for many student athletes.