Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
Heading into Sunday’s final round of the Atlantic 10 Golf Championship at the Grand Cypress Golf Club in Orlando, Florida, the Rams held a one-shot lead over defending champion Davidson.
Coach Matt Ball gave his team a simple message prior to the round: to do what they could and not worry about anything else.
“Just a reminder that it’s us against the golf course and us against ourselves,” Ball said. “And if we can overcome those two, just let the chips fall where they may and that gives us the best chance to win it.”
The Rams overcame both the course and themselves en route to the fourth A-10 title in program history, knocking off Davidson April 28 with a three-day score of 3-over 867. The Wildcats finished just behind the Black and Gold 5-over 869.
VCU won three consecutive A-10 titles from 2014-2016 and now have 14 total conference titles, eight of them with Ball as the coach.
The team has no seniors on the roster, and all of the starting five for the conference tournament are underclassmen. Ball and his staff used the entire season to prepare the team.
“The whole year, really, has been geared to training the golf games and the mental side of golf to be prepared for this week,” Ball said. “This team has grown more over the course of the year probably than any team that I’ve ever had.”
Ball also said this year’s group is the youngest he’s ever coached in his 20 years at the helm the team.
With Davidson breathing down VCU’s neck, Ball said he knew they had a shot to win, but he thought Davidson would need to miss a few shots.
“I knew that it was an outside shot [to win],” Ball said. “Davidson is really good, I thought they might have to help us a little bit to open the door a little bit for us. [VCU] went out and played to win. Made some mistakes, fought back, mentally got back to the right place quickly.”
Davidson did not make many mistakes in the final round — even taking the lead for a short period of time — but the Rams combined for 16 birdies on the back nine to earn the title. VCU’s combined final round score of 7-under was the best team score in the championship.
“I really didn’t think if we won it would be in a shootout on the last day when both teams were playing great,” Ball said. “That was not in my wildest imagination, but that’s the way it worked out.”
Freshman Ian Peng, who tied for second with a three-day score of 5-under 211, led the Rams. He was one shot off the champion, George Washington’s Logan Lowe, who finished 6-under par.
“Ian hits the ball so straight,” Ball said. “It is a very difficult golf course with a lot of trouble, a lot of hazards. He just never hits it in trouble.”
Peng surged up the leaderboard Saturday, shooting a 4-under 68 after a rocky start on Friday when he shot a 2-over 74. He followed it up with a final round 3-under 69 to finish second.
“The first day I think was [Peng’s] biggest struggle,” Ball said. “I know the second day, on approach shots he lipped out three times, which is phenomenal.”
Freshman Adrian Vagberg shot a 3-under 213 over the three-day tournament to finish tied for fifth place. Sophomore Kristian Tannum Donaldson placed ninth after carding a 1-under 215 for the tournament, and sophomore Sachin Kumar and junior Alston Newsom rounded out the Rams’ scoring, finishing tied for 33rd 14-over.
The Rams will advance to the NCAA tournament May 13-15 and look to keep the same mindset that won them the A-10 tournament.
“We have no control over any other team in the field,” Ball said. “Mentally, stay in the moment and if we get in a good mode, we put the pedal to the metal and give it a go. If we struggle, to get refocused, stay positive and optimistic. Put everything else behind you and let’s go, move ahead and take it one shot at a time.”
The Rams will find out where they are playing for the NCAA regional tournament May 1 at 9 p.m. during the NCAA Selection Show on the Golf Channel.