Late Monday afternoon, senior Zak Ottman stood on the 18th green, staring at a mid-range putt. To his left stood Binghamton head coach Bernie Herceg, motioning with his hand at the small crowd of spectators and media to stay completely silent. After evaluating the shot for a few moments with everyone quietly looking on, Ottman calmly walked to his ball and knocked it in, cinching a victory for the Binghamton golf team at the 2018 Matthews Auto Intercollegiate Invitational.
“It’s a dream come true,” Ottman said afterward. “I’ve played in almost every event here, I’ve had ups and downs, and to go out on top here, on our home course, on my last try — it’s a dream come true for sure.”
It was a successful two-round invitational for the Bearcats all around. Ottman finished the tournament as a co-champion alongside his teammate, sophomore Justin Lane, who continues to rack up top-ten finishes. Both earned individual scores of five under par to claim their first victories in each of their careers. Out of 10 Bearcats who took to the course, five finished in the top 10 on the individual leaderboard.
All of it amounted to a staggering 18-stroke victory for BU, its first victory in any invitational since March 2015. The Bearcats were the only squad to finish with a team score that was below par, amassing a total score of minus-14 on 562 shots. The mark broke the previous program record for lowest 36-hole performance in an invitational.
“It was a great week,” Herceg said. “The players played phenomenal — the whole team. We were under par as a team day one and day two, they came together and played really solid.”
Binghamton’s performance in this tournament marks a vast improvement from the team’s results at last year’s Matthews Auto Invitational. Then, the Bearcats posted a team score of 12 over par. This year the team started the exact same five players, and the result was a full 26 shots lower.
“They have definitely matured a little bit since the year before,” Herceg said. “We were a young team last year, and that being said, over the summer the hard work they put in and what they’ve done so far in the fall here, that definitely made a difference.”
Both days followed a similar pattern for BU. At the front nine, the team got off to a slow start in both rounds. In the first round, only one player, sophomore Nacho Glagovsky, finished the front nine with a score below par. It was only on the back nine that the Bearcats began to settle in. Ottman, the eventual champion, did par or better on eight of those nine holes that day, including a two-shot eagle on 14. By the time the day was over, the Bearcats were at minus-11 and 12 shots ahead of the second-place team.
Ottman maintained his top position on the leaderboard for most of the second day, falling behind only briefly when an opponent was playing an easier part of the course than he was. The Bearcats’ score began to dip as well, falling all the way to minus-seven during the rough front nine, only to shoot back up again, mainly due to Lane’s performance. Lane fired off six birdies on his final 10 holes, enough to catch up with Ottman and propel his team to a large margin of victory.
“The front side is a little tougher side, especially in competition,” Herceg said. “It’s tighter, without a doubt, and there are certain holes out there where if you’re making pars it’s a good thing … Fortunately this week we played solid on the front side and really well on the back.”
In addition to the main team, Binghamton also sported a “B” team, comprising the remaining five players on the Bearcats’ roster. While this team didn’t do nearly as well as the main squad (plus-24), the team did show some promise with an exceptional score of three-under turned in by sophomore D.J. Griffiths, who recently transferred from Florida Gulf Coast.
From here, the Bearcats will look to build on their victory and carry their momentum into future invitationals. Their next opportunity to do so will be the F&M Bank APSU Intercollegiate hosted by Austin Peay. The two-day tournament begins Monday, Oct. 15 from Clarksville, Tennessee.