ALLENDALE, Mich. – Call it a sweet repeat in Pure Michigan.
Barry University’s No. 1-ranked men’s golf team repeated as NCAA Division II National Champions, beating Nova Southeastern, 3-1-1, in the match play finals at The Meadows Golf Course. It was the same layout the Bucs won their first title in 2007 under what then was a stroke play-only format.
It is Barry’s third national championship in the men’s golf program’s history, and the school’s 13th overall.
On a day where the gritty Sharks got out to an early 4-1 lead, Barry’s veterans never wilted. Two-and-a-half hours into the match, Bucs senior Scott Smyers pulled even in his match with Hunter O’Mahony on the 11th as the Bucs evened the score at 1-1-3. Hometown product Jared Dalga, a Bucs senior from nearby Grand Rapids, had built a four-stroke lead on Mitch Farrer through 10 holes of the par-71, 7,034-yard course where winds were slightly bothersome early on.
“We got off to a really slow start,” said Bucs coach Jimmy Stobs, who has positioned himself as one of the brightest names in collegiate golf with his third national title in a seven-year span. “Things started to shift. Jared started building his lead. I could feel the momentum starting to change. “
Attribute that to a well-architected strategy by Stobs, who had his two seniors tee off first for psychological reasons. Knowing if they got off to good starts, Stobs believed his seniors' leadership could have a calming effect on the underclassmen -- two of which were completing their first or second years of college golf.
“I had the confidence in Scott,” Stobs said of his senior, who struggled during the tournament. “I just knew he wasn’t going to go 0-3 (in match play). I knew he had some good golf in him.”
Barry junior Berry Jole was even with Oscar Lengden through 10 holes. Bucs freshman All-American Mario Beltran was even with Santiago Gomez, and Barry sophomore All-American Adam Svensson, the No. 1-ranked player in the country, trailed by a stroke to Ricardo Celia.
Roughly seven minutes after squaring the match at 1-1-3, the Bucs trailed, 2-1-2, after Smyers double-bogeyed. By 12:11 p.m., Barry took a 2-1-2 lead when Smyers squared his match with his second straight birdie on the 455-yard, par-4 15th after sinking a 20-footer for birdie on 14.
“I felt pretty relaxed,” Smyers said. “Even though my score didn’t say it, I felt pretty good. I just needed to put the pressure on. As a team, we just needed to put the pressure on.”
It was a collective thought that ran throughout the Buccaneers' lineup, especially when play entered the cumbersome lengthy high-grass back nine that had been unforgiving to the field all week.
“We knew we had an advantage there,” said Jole, the Bucs 6-foot-5 inch tower of power. “I think it gave us confidence. We knew we had chances there. We were patient there. We won it on the second nine.”
After Smyers secured his second straight birdie, Dalga’s lead was cut to three. Jole was up 1. Beltran was even, and Svensson remained down a stroke, having just parred the 443-yard 11th. It was anybody’s match to win.
“That’s the thing about golf,” Smyers said. “Anything can happen at any given moment.”
The Buccaneers found themselves ahead 3-2 about three hours and 20 minutes into the match with Smyers and Jole clinging to one-stroke leads, and Dalga in front by three with four holes remaining in his round.
Tension was still alive, even with the Bucs beginning to pull away. After all, Nova Southeastern was the top seed entering match play.
“The matchups were good,” Stobs said. “No one had an advantage. Adam is the No. 1-ranked player in the country, and he was down a stroke or two. Ricardo’s a First Team All-American. He played really, really well.”
Smyers, a Lakeland, Florida, native whose dad is a golf course architect and mom a former LPGA player, parred out over his final three holes to win by three strokes. Dalga was equally steady down the stretch, matching Farrer with a birdie on the 601-yard par-5 14th, before both parred out over the final four holes to give Dalga a three-stroke victory. It was a day he shot par to cap his collegiate career in championship style with a quintet of family and supporters shadowing him.
"It feels great to have such a good season, and cap it off with this national championship," Dalga said. "People barely win one, and we just won two in a row. It is a pretty special day.”
Special even more because he delivered on the biggest stage.
“Today, he stepped up big time,” Stobs said of Dalga. “He was focused the moment he got in the van.”
At the time of Dalga’s victory, Jole was teeing off on the 394-yard 18th around 1:09 p.m., nursing a two stroke lead. A Rysuhout, Netherlands, native, Jole had a crack at birdie on a hole that didn’t yield one all day – let alone many during the five-day tournament that began with 20 teams and 108 players.
“I knew that my match was going to mean a lot,” said Jole, who won all three of his matches in his first NCAA Championship appearance. "I took it well, and stuck to my game plan. I liked to be in that position. I saw that Scott and Jared won their matches, and I was going to have a putt to win. I took it well.”
From the fairway, Jole found himself 188 yards out – about the same distance Dalga was just minutes earlier as the Netherlands native learned from assistant coach Chris Carlin.
“I was hitting it really well,” Jole said, thoughts returning to his approach on 18. “I told Chris, ‘This is either a soft 6 or a hard 7.’ I pulled out the 7, and said, ‘I got this.’ Chris said, ‘I like it.’”
Jole knocked his second shot within 10-11 feet from the pin. He nearly sank the birdie putt before settling for the title-clinching par.
“I was playing to my abilities,” Jole said. “I felt really comfortable. On 18, ‘I thought, that’s the club, and I’m going to hit it.’”
That he did, and within minutes the Bucs were celebrating. Carlin and the three finished golfers all embraced on the 18th green with Beltran and Svensson still on the course.
“Mario and I were standing in the middle of the 18th fairway,” Stobs said. "I told him, ‘You’re about to get a ring just like your brother.’ He said, ‘What?’ I told him, ‘Just finish your match, we’re going to win.’ We hugged, and then he got back to his shot and finished out his round.”
Beltran, a Valencia, Spain, native, went on to par his final hole for a 73 to match Gomez. Svensson, of Surrey Vancouver, British Columbia, played a bogey-free back nine – a rarity for the field all week. After putting up a birdie on 14, he parred out down the stretch to cap his season with a 1-over 72.
“This championship was special because I got to enjoy it when play wasn’t finished yet,” Stobs said. “This one was a little more relaxing. They had such a great year, and I know they didn’t want to go out without winning. I’m proud of all of them. There was a lot of pressure on Scott and Jared, and they delivered. This was a great team win. To repeat … it’s hard enough to win once, but to repeat, it’s really sweet."
Barry won eight of its 12 tournaments this year. The Buccaneers were the wire-to-wire No. 1-ranked team in the country.
“That’s a very impressive year,” Smyers said, the minutes to his college life essentially vanishing. “It was great to contribute to that. It feels good to be able to go out on top, especially with what our team’s accomplished. It speaks for itself. To be a back-to-back national champion, it’s a great feeling."
It may be even more rewarding after the skies appeared to be overcast -- no golf analogy intended.
“I struggled coming out of the gate. The whole tournament really," Smyers confessed. "I think we all just stepped it up a notch once we realized it was about to slip away from us. I was just trying to get it back to even.”
He did more than that. He took control of his match, seized the moment and delivered. Then he walked off the course a champion -- a goal Stobs’ Studs set back in August.
“In the first team meeting, we talked about complacency,” Stobs said. “They were not. They worked hard.”
Maybe Jole is the epitome of that. In a Stobs' system, where patience and perseverance is a virtue, he's paid his dues over a three-year journey. To put it mildly, cracking the best college golf team five-man lineup in the country is a grind - one almost as symbolic as the rigors of the match play format the NCAA asks its student-athlete golfers to wage through after eight semesters of academic concentration.
“We worked really hard together, and we stuck together as a team," Jole said. "Both coaches stuck around us a lot. They helped us a lot. The combination of us, along with their help, that's what did it for us.
"I think it’s the greatest feeling to be able to lift your coach up, and know that we won. That’s priceless. We won conference, regionals and nationals. Getting that trophy at the end ... that’s the best feeling."
In 2013-14, Barry University was the best in the business.