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Vanderbilt breaks through in match play with ELC title

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ATLANTA – So close, so often in recent years, Vanderbilt coach Scott Limbaugh was even starting to doubt himself in the team match-play format.

Wednesday’s result helped convince him that he’s on the right track.

The Commodores were dominant in the championship match at the East Lake Cup, denying Illinois a third straight team title and winning, 4-1.

“Even as coaches we want the confidence to know that we’re doing the right thing,” Limbaugh said afterward.

Having advanced to match play each of the past three years but never reaching the NCAA finals, Limbaugh looked inward. He tried to better understand the identity of each year’s team. After getting routed at last year’s East Lake Cup, he decided that he was going to use the same lineup, 1-5, regardless of individual matchups for the rest of the season. That tactic worked with that particular squad, because senior Matthias Schwab, one of the top amateurs in the world, was virtually guaranteed to win his match.

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The Commodores don’t have that luxury this year, so Limbaugh gathered the team for a one-hour meeting before flying to Atlanta. He wanted everyone involved, offering input on where they wanted to play. Some wanted to go early, to set the tone. Others wanted to go late, to absorb the pressure.

It was the proper formula, and lineup, as Vanderbilt won the stroke-play portion, rolled Oregon in the semifinals and then thumped Illinois, a two-time East Lake Cup champion, in the championship match.

No one in Vanderbilt’s lineup had a better week than junior Will Gordon, who earned medalist honors, was named the Tom Cousins Award winner and then cruised in both of his matches.

“These guys carry chips on their shoulders. These guys stack those chips and try to play the best golf they can,” Limbaugh said. “Our guys wanted to steal the show this week, and they did.”