Rossland golfer Braden McKay had packed his bags and was set to fly home last week after completing his studies at Wilmington University in Delaware, when something unexpected happened.
McKay and his Wilmington Wildcats golf team received a surprise berth into the 2019 NCAA Division II Atlantic/East Super Regional Tournament at the Totteridge Golf Course in Greensburg, Pa.
“We got into our Regionals on basically a technicality, we got voted in, we didn’t actually qualify,” explained McKay to the Trail Times on Tuesday. “We got into our Regionals to our conference in the 10th place of 10 spots, and we were ranked 11th in the Golf-Stats going in.”
But the Wilmington Wildcats team didn’t live up to their expectations, they blew them out of the water and parlayed that opportunity into a third-place finish and a date with 19 other teams at the NCAA Div. II National Golf championship.
“We’re pretty excited about it,” said McKay. “At Regionals our expectations weren’t too high there, but we ended up leading after the first round and just kind of hung onto the third spot, and three of the 20 teams qualified.”
In Thursday’s first round at Regionals, the Wildcats roared to the top of the leaderboard on the strength of McKay’s even-par-72.
The 21-year-old Junior, who earned a golf scholarship to Wilmington in 2016, shot out to a 2-under par lead with birdies on the third and fourth holes. He then birdied the par-5 12th and 15th to get back to 2-under par each time, but bogeys on 16 and 18 dropped him back to even-par for the round.
“I played pretty solid in the first round, not as great the second round, but I had a really good stretch in the third round.”
Each NCAA team is made up of five players, with the top four scores counting on the scorecard. Wilmington shot a combined 296 in Round 1 to lead by two strokes over Southern New Hampshire and Franklin Pierce College.
On Friday, the team fell back to third spot after firing a combined 305 and trailed Bentley University by three shots. McKay fired an 8-over 80, but a 73 by teammate Ryan Rucinski helped the Wildcats cause.
McKay bounced back on Saturday with a 76, finishing in a tie for 22nd in the individual standings for the tournament. The Wildcats shot a combined score of 302, for a three-day total of 903, and finished four strokes back of leader.
“In the final round, there’s a lot more pressure knowing that a mistake could get you out of a national championship, and a good shot can put you in it,” said McKay. “So there’s a lot more pressure with that. Coming down the last three holes I was a little nervous, but we held on, and everyone did what they had to do.”
The top three teams advanced to the National Tournament, which goes on Monday in Daniels, West Virginia, at the Resort at Glade Springs. Super Regional winner Southern New Hampshire and second-place Bentley will join the Wildcats at the National Tournament.
“It’s a completely different ballgame once you get there (nationals), everyone starts fresh,” said McKay. “We weren’t too hot going into Regionals, but we came out in our first round with the team’s best round of the year, so it gives us a ton of confidence.”
Twenty teams will compete at the Nationals with three rounds (54-holes) of stroke play deciding who makes the final eight, where teams go head-to-head in a single-elimination medal match-play competition.