Sophomore Davis Thompson captured medalist honors for the first time in his career to lead Georgia to the team title at the NCAA Athens Regional at the University of Georgia Golf Course on Wednesday.
Thompson closed with a 3-under 68 to wrap up the 54-hole event at 7-under 206, two strokes ahead of Vanderbilt’s Will Gordon. No. 16-ranked Georgia fired its second-straight 4-under 280 and finished at 8-under 844, seven shots better than No. 9 Duke.
“Any time you win, it just gives you confidence,” Georgia head coach Chris Haack said. “And then when you do it on a big stage, like the NCAA Regionals, it just gives you even more confidence. These guys work so hard. To see (Davis) finally get over the hump and do it on a stage like this in front of a lot of fans is pretty special.”
The Bulldogs will now compete in the NCAA Championships on May 24-29 at The Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville, Ark.
Georgia dominated the individual leaderboard. In addition to Thompson, junior Spencer Ralston finished third at 4-under 209 and freshman Trent Phillips tied for 10th at 1-over 214.
The Bulldogs covered their first four holes at 5-over and briefly fell behind Vanderbilt on the team leaderboard Wednesday. Georgia fought back to even-par at the turn and then played the back half of the course at 4-under.
“We preached all year about staying patient, getting down (and) battling through it,” Haack said. “I saw them do it better this week because we got off to bad starts all three days. We just came out of the gates on 1, 2 and 3 and just did not play really well. But they all got it done, so that will teach them something. You just can't ever give up. You just have to keep grinding. It's a long tournament so you’ve just got to keep going.”
Thompson played bogey-free golf on Wednesday, with birdies at Nos. 7, 13, 14, and 18. He was already a shot up on Gordon, who was playing in the group behind him, when he birdied the 488-yard, par-4 No. 18 to all but clinch the first individual win of his career.
"I made a lot of putts coming in when I needed to,” Thompson said. “I made three birdies on the back nine which was huge. I just tried to treat it as every other day that we play out here, and I'm just really happy for the team just build momentum heading into nationals.”
“He has been one of those guys who's just gotten better and better as a junior golfer and freshman year to this year,” Haack said. “I think the best is still yet to come for him and I'm just glad I’ve got him for two more years.”
Thompson had nine scores in the 60s in 28 rounds prior to the Regional but shot 69-69-67 en route to victory. His father, Todd, was a two-time captain of the Bulldogs in the 1980s.
Phillips double-bogeyed No. 4 but got both of those shots back when he chipped in for eagle at No. 7. He was even through No. 15, mixing a birdie at No. 8 with a bogey at No. 11 and six pars. Back-to-back birdies at No. 16 and No. 17 sparked Phillips to his team-best 18th effort in the 60s in 31 rounds this season.
“I'm still not in the place I want to be with my golf game, especially heading into next week, but I did all I could do today,” Phillips said. “(I) shot 69, so I can't complain about that, but I'm excited to be able to put that score in for the team. Getting the team win is pretty awesome for sure.”
Georgia earned its third victory this spring and the 63rd in Haack’s 23 seasons with the Bulldogs. Two of those are the 1999 and 2005 national titles; however, Georgia has missed advancing to the last two NCAA Championships.
“It feels good to be back where we feel Georgia belongs,” Haack said.
Also advancing to the NCAAs from the Athens Regional are No. 9 Duke, No. 4 Vanderbilt, SMU and No. 22 Liberty.
Billy Tom Sargent of Western Kentucky defeated Stephen Osborne of Nevada in a playoff for the individual spot in the NCAA Championships field. They tied for fourth at 3-under 210. Both parred the first playoff hole (No. 10) and bogeyed the second playoff hole (No. 18) before Sargent won the third playoff hole (No. 10) with a 20-foot par putt.