A Shared Victory for Virginia Tech
The scene was, at most, subdued. Certainly not what you would expect from a team having just won a championship.
At the same time that its extreme joy, theres a lot of sadness, too.
Those were the words of Ryan Sypniewski, the lone senior on the Virginia Tech mens golf team.
Sunday in New London, N.C., Virginia Tech, six days after the massacre of 32 students on their Blacksburg campus, won a share of the Atlantic Coast Conference Mens Golf Championship.
They did so for the first time since joining the ACC in 2004. They did so by shooting a 9-under 279 on the final day, tying the best performance of the week by any team.
We came out here today (Sunday) and gave it all we had, said sophomore Drew Weaver to ACC Video Services. We said today was for the 32 lives that were lost on Monday.
Virginia Tech tied Georgia Tech for medalist honors. The two teams ended the three-day competition at 10 under. Rather than go into a playoff, it was declared that both teams would share the title.
Sometimes in life things are supposed to work out the way theyre supposed to, Yellow Jackets coach Bruce Helper was quoted as saying. Their kids played an unbelievable event and (had) an unbelievable day.
The Virginia Tech team arrived at the Old North State Club 47th in the Sagarin Team collegiate rankings, without a single player ranked inside the top 180.
They really didnt have much of a chance to win, not in the ultra-competitive ACC, where six teams reside inside the top 25. They just had a lot of hope ' that and bunch of red eyes, scrambled minds and heavy hearts.
Toughest thing Ive ever had to do, Weaver said about trying to center his attention on golf when the tournament began Friday. It took me nine or 10 holes (in the first round) to really get focused. Still, I caught myself having lapses on the golf course every round.
Five back to start Sunday, Hokie players, one by one, came to the par-5 18th needing a little something special in order to have a chance at victory. Three of them made birdie. The other two made par.
It seemed like there was something a little extra out there with us today, something kind of eerie, said Sypniewski, who birdied four of his final seven holes for a 5-under 67. This last hole, definitely with what happened ' the sort of heroics, if you will ' it was eerie.
Added Jay Hardwick, in his 24th season as VT head coach, Im just really so proud of these guys. This week I was more of a father than a friend. They didnt need a lot of coaching this week.
But they got a lot of support. Most of the players in the field wore orange and maroon ribbons, in addition to the blue ribbons they pinned to their shirts and hats in remembrance of former Duke coach Rod Meyers, who died of leukemia on March 30. Some wore black wrist bands in observance of the tragedy. And even the University of Virginia, VTs most dreaded rival, handed their players Tech decals to put on their bags.
The show of support from my fellow coaches, the other teams in the ACC, the Atlantic Coast Conference office and the members and staff at Old North State made it possible for us to get through this week, Hardwick was quoted as saying on hokiesports.com.
As the Virginia Tech players and their coach accepted their medals and posed for pictures with the championship trophy, they did so with reservation. There were smiles and pats on the back, but no loud proclamations, no waving or raising of a single index finger.
This wasnt about one, or being No. 1. This was a shared victory. Not with Georgia Tech, but with all those still grieving back home and those 32 lost on April 16, 2007.
Winning is, coach Hardwick started to say before pausing for composure, taking it back home to the people who deserve it.
It puts everything into perspective. I think thats the word for the week ' perspective, said Sypniewski, the teams captain. It wasnt about making putts or hitting shots; it was about representing our school and representing the people we lost.
I cant wait to get back to Blacksburg.
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.
According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm all can grab the top spot in the world ranking.
Thomas’ path is the easiest. He will return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finished worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.
Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.
Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.
And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish worse than solo second.
Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.
Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:
The Monday morning headline will be …
REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.
RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.
MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.
JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.
Who or what will be the biggest surprise?
HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.
LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.
BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.
COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.
Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?
HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.
LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.
BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.
COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.
What will be the winning score?
HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.
LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.
BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.
COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.
Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty
Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.
Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.
This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):
While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:
Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.
McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.
Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.
“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”
McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.
“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”
He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.