FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – On the morning of Auburn’s NCAA semifinal match against Oklahoma State last year, Jacob Solomon was on the range getting his game in shape.
The only difference between he and some of his teammates that day? Solomon wasn’t at Karsten Creek but rather back on campus. He finished practicing just in time to flip on the Golf Channel and watch the Tigers compete.
“It hurt not being there last year and not being able to help the team,” Solomon said. “But you just have to root the team on as best you can. Man, they played well.”
Auburn ended up falling to the top-ranked Cowboys, who went on to win the national title over Alabama. But the Tigers, ranked 11th in the country, are back for more this week at the NCAA Championship.
So is Solomon, who has impressed through 36 holes at Blessings Golf Club. The senior is 4 under after a 3-under 69 in Saturday’s second round and just two shots back of leader Austin Eckroat of Oklahoma State.
“He was pretty determined to come out here and contend and see what he could do,” Auburn head coach Nick Clinard said.
NCAA Men’s Championship: Individual scoring | Team scoring
Solomon was an All-SEC freshman and was tied for second on the team in scoring average in his first year at Auburn. In his first two seasons, he notched a combined 12 top-20 finishes and never played fewer than 32 rounds.
But as a junior, Solomon took a major step back. It didn’t help that the Tigers boasted a deep team, but Solomon lost his ball-striking and cracked the top 20 just three times. He only teed it up in 21 rounds and failed to make the lineup for the Tigers’ last six events.
“It’s not easy when you’re good and you’ve played the majority of your tournaments in college and you’re really competitive, which he is,” Clinard said. “His arena is inside the ropes. He’s probably the most competitive guy I have. There’s nothing a coach can tell him to make him feel better about it, either. They have to just understand that it’s a marathon.”
Solomon understood that and remained motivated. He recorded top-10s at the Dogwood and Sunnehanna amateurs before reaching match play at the U.S. Amateur.
“He came back to school with a sense of confidence, like ‘I’m a leader, I’m a senior, I’m going to go out on a good note,’” Clinard said.
Solomon didn’t miss a tournament for Auburn this season, playing a team-high 37 rounds while finishing in the top 20 eight times with four top-10s. He also earned second-team All-SEC honors.
“It’s a nice validation for all the work I put in,” Solomon said. “I definitely was happy to be able to travel to every tournament, and that just speaks to my consistency now.”
Said Clinard: “He’s been a rock-steady guy for us all year.”
Through two rounds at Blessings, Solomon has been the team’s horse. Junior Jovan Rebula (T-25) is the only other player in the top 40 individually for Auburn, which is seven shots clear of eighth place.
Solomon made five birdies Saturday while only recording one blemish. He double-bogeyed the par-5 15th hole – the easiest hole on the course, according to Solomon – after hitting his second shot into and trying to play his third shot from the hazard.
“I hit it over the green in into the left hazard,” Solomon said. “… But I hit maybe two bad shots all day.”
As Clinard said, “He’s hitting it where he’s looking now.”
And now Solomon is looking at helping the Tigers back to NCAA match play.