A day into the NCAA Championships, the Michigan golf team didn’t seem to have it. The Wolverines shot a combined 307 through 18 holes and stood in 25th place out of the 30-team field.
But then, led by senior Lion Kim, Michigan came charging back the next two days to grab the No. 10 spot in the country. The 10th-place finish is the Wolverines’ second-best performance since 1952. The 2009 team finished sixth overall.
And Michigan was oh-so-close to putting itself into the next round of the NCAA Championships. The Wolverines’ 892 three-day total was just three strokes off of Duke, which was the final qualifier for the eight-team match play tournament that followed Tuesday-Thursday’s stroke play.
“Obviously we are disappointed we did not advance,” Michigan coach Andrew Sapp said through the athletic department. “We really fought the final two rounds to put ourselves in a position to sit on the final hole to see if we made it. It is painful to miss by a few shots rather than 20, but after being tied for 25th after the first day and to see us even have a chance to make match play, I could not be any more proud of this team. They have a lot of heart.”
Kim’s 215 over the three days spurred Michigan’s surge up the leaderboard in Stillwater, Okla. That score earned Kim third place in the individual competition.
His 73 on Thursday marked the final round of his historic Michigan career — perhaps the best in Wolverine history. Kim earned his second All-American honor to put himself in the company of just four other Michigan golfers. And his trip to Augusta National earlier this spring marked the first time a Wolverine competed in the Masters.
“Lion has had an unbelievable career,” Sapp said. “He was a tremendous player. He was a tremendous leader. He was a tremendous representative of this University. He gave all he had for four years and it was my honor to have been a part of his golfing career.
“We will certainly miss him, but I know he has helped shape this program into what it is today. He will be remembered for a long time.”
But it wasn’t just Kim doing the work to lift Michigan 15 spots in two days. The other four Wolverines were crucial in leading the charge back up the leaderboard.
“After the first round, we could have packed up our tents and gone home,” Sapp said. “We did not do that. We fought tooth and nail for the last two days and really gave ourselves the best shot at advancing. For them to do that and not give up really shows the character of these young men. (Junior) Matt (Thompson) had a sensational final day with eight birdies and sophomore Jack (Schultz) made so many up and downs for par today to really help this team.
“Even (freshman) Joey (Garber) and (sophomore) Rahul (Bakshi) really played with resiliency and fought back after slow starts today. I am just so proud of them.”
Thompson’s 70 on Thursday put him in 20th place overall with 220 and Garber finished 56th highlighted by his 72 on Wednesday.
Their emergence gives the team two key pieces for continuing their success into next year. Only senior Alexander Sitompul joins Kim in graduating this year.
“With four of the five starters returning, they really gained some valuable experiences,” Sapp said. “Hopefully, it builds a hunger inside of them to want to get back (to the NCAA Finals) next year and go even farther.
“I am just so proud of how hard this team worked and the effort they put in each and every day. We are looking forward to the future because it is bright.”