After posting its worst score of the year in the first round of the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate this past weekend, it looked as though the Michigan men’s golf team was headed for an ugly finish.
But led by freshman Joey Garber’s second-place overall finish, the Wolverines fought back and hurdled five spots in the final round to finish tied for fifth overall with a final team score of 873.
“We played poorly (in the first round), bottom line,” Michigan coach Andrew Sapp said. “We played better the next day, but we just hurt ourselves too much in that first round to try to get into even second or third place.”
Garber did everything he could to help his team stay in contention. After a first-round score of 72 — which included seven birdies and seven bogeys — he knew that he had the potential to post a low score in the following rounds if he could eliminate the bogeys.
It was just a matter of getting to know the course better.
Garber used the knowledge that he gained after the first round to propel him to a career-best 67 on Saturday. His newfound awareness of the course showed as he birdied five holes and bogeyed none.
“It’s one of those courses that is tough when you haven’t played it a lot, but if you’re hitting it well, there are a lot of birdie opportunities,” Garber said. “Obviously, if you don’t make any bogeys, you’re hitting it well. It was just about capitalizing on opportunities and making the putts when I needed to, and I did that on Saturday.”
Sapp added: “We were just kind of kidding him to keep making the birdies and just stop making the bogeys. And he figured out a way to do that. It was an awesome round.”
Heading into Sunday’s final round, Garber was just one stroke behind leader Mackenzie Hughes of Kent State. It was the first time in his career that Garber entered the final round in contention for a title.
But he wouldn’t let the spotlight bother him as he chased after Hughes for the title.
“I think it was actually a really good place for me to be in,” Garber said. “It would have been tough going in with the lead as a freshman. (Trailing by one) was nerve-racking at times, but it wasn’t anything different than what I’m used to.”
Any nerves that Garber had were calmed early on, as he birdied the first hole to immediately thrust himself to the top of the leader board. But Garber’s stint at the top didn’t last long.
After starting his final round with three pars, Hughes caught fire and ended the front nine five-under, birdying three holes and eagling the par-5 eighth. Hughes’s final-round 65 would prove to be too much for Garber and the rest of the field, as he ran away with a comfortable seven-stroke victory.
“I was happy with the way I battled through today,” said Garber, who posted a one-under 71 in the final round. “Sometimes there’s nothing you can do when a guy goes out there and shoots a final round 65 on a tough course. I think I hit the ball well enough to challenge him, but I just couldn’t come through on the putts.”
But Garber wasn’t the only Michigan golfer capitalizing on opportunities. Senior Lion Kim, sophomore Jack Schultz and junior Matt Thompson all carded final round scores under par to help the Wolverines move up the leader board.
Michigan’s final round score of 280 was its best team-round score of the year, and the Wolverines will look to build on that as they head into their final tournament of the short fall season.
“It was just a solid effort by all the guys (on Sunday), and that’s what you need to move up the leader board,” Sapp said. “Everybody played at least one solid round this week, so hopefully we can feed off that and this final round today will help us build some momentum going into the final tournament of the season.”