March 17, 2013
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Joaquin Lolas and Bjorn Hellgren got the Florida State men's golf team off to a fast start and teammate Daniel Berger tacked on the exclamation point to Sunday's final round of the Seminole Intercollegiate at the Southwood Golf Course.
Berger rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt at No. 17 and finished with a two-putt par at 18 to capture top individual honors, leading his team to a successful tournament title defense.
Florida State has now won three of the four Seminole Intercollegiate team titles since the tournament moved to Southwood in 2010. Berger is the fourth consecutive FSU player to claim the top individual honors, following in the footsteps of Brooks Koepka (2012), Drew Kittleson (2011) and Seath Lauer (2010).
"Winning at home is awesome, because we won it last year and Brooks won it individually," Berger said, after closing out the 54-hole event at 11-under. "To keep that tradition going is even better. The last three (tournaments this season) have been awesome. We won the Gator and I won it individually. ... To come here and defend is even better."
The day began with the 17th-ranked Seminoles holding a one-shot lead over No. 36 Mississippi State and Berger deadlocked atop the leaderboard with Coastal Carolina's Sebastian Soderberg at 8-under.
By the time the first scores of the day were posted after three holes, FSU had opened up a six-shot lead over Mississippi State and were never seriously threatened, closing with a four-man, final round total of 10-under, 278. The Seminoles' three-day, 25-under (839) total - their fewest tournament strokes under par this season by a whopping 18 - was seven shots clear of the runner-up Bulldogs.
"The main thing was we did get off to a good start," FSU coach Trey Jones said. "The guys executed well early on. That Mississippi State team and that Coastal Carolina team didn't go away. They just kept firing at birdies and making putts. We had to continue to match them. We weren't going to be able to stay where we were at. We had to continue to play well."
Berger did his part with a final-round 69 to finish 11-under (205) for the tournament. That was one shot better than Seminole teammate Chase Seiffert, who played as an individual, Mississippi State's Joe Sakulpolphaisan and Soderberg. The FSU sophomore made the turn at 1-under on the day but birdies at Nos. 10 and 11 supplied the momentum as he headed toward the clubhouse.
The turning point came after he knocked his 3-wood into the right bunker at No. 11, but blasted out for a tap-in birdie; indicative of how his short game played out all day. Then at 17 and still at 10-under - the same as Seiffert who was already in the clubhouse - Berger came up with his most important shot of the tournament.
"I had 230 (yards) into the wind and hit a little sawed-off 3-iron to about 20 feet and made the putt," Berger said. "I had been hitting my long irons good all week and just had to be a man and hit it where I wanted and where I was looking. It was perfect yardage."
From the 18th fairway, Berger knocked his second shot onto the green and navigated the final 25 feet in two putts to preserve the one-shot win after Sakulpolphaisan snaked in a 20-foot birdie to get to 10-under and apply a couple anxious moments.
"He's just an extremely talented player that's just getting better and better," Jones said, after Berger collected his second collegiate victory. "The more he puts himself in the situation I think the better he'll be. We're fortunate that he's getting better and he's carrying our golf bag."
Ironically, Berger sealed the win on what he described as his worst day of ball-striking over the 54-hole event.
"I hit four greens on the front nine," he said. "I was just getting up and down from everywhere. I was just grinding. Every day you've got to keep fighting."
Berger's mentality left an even stronger impression on Jones.
"He's a competitor and he knows why he's out here," Jones said. "As soon as he hits a bad shot he gets to the next one. That's a talent onto itself and he's phenomenal with that. ... That's what separates him from all the other guys."
Two other Seminoles passed Sunday's mental test with flying colors. Lolas, playing in his first event of the spring in the lineup, matched Seiffert for low round of the day with a 5-under, 67 which vaulted him to a share of seventh place in the final standings.
"The first couple of rounds were actually not bad," said Lolas, who entered the final round at 1-under. "I played pretty solid golf and just couldn't build any momentum. ... Today I was really patient. I just let my round develop today and just let the small things from the first few holes give my confidence to keep making birdies."
Lolas drained three birdies on the front side, including a 15-foot putt at No. 6 that really built his confidence. He shrugged off a bogey at No. 8 with what he described as "an unbelievable up-and-down" birdie from behind the green at No. 10, then flushed a 30-foot birdie putt at No. 13.
"I put myself in the same position yesterday," Lolas said. "My mindset maybe changed a little bit yesterday and I was thinking more about the team and how we were doing. Today all I thought was just about my game and the more birdies I can make the better I can help the team."
Equally impressive was Hellgren's rebound from a pair of bogeys after three holes on Sunday. The Seminoles had not counted one of Hellgren's rounds through the first two days and warmly welcomed the birdie barrage - five in an eight hole stretch from Nos. 4-11 - that sparked a 2-under 70.
"For Joaquin to go out and shoot 67 and Bjorn to shoot 70 - when your first guys off the tee box go get you 7-under - and you know what you've got behind them with a couple All-Americans, we were going to be hard to beat," Jones said.
Freshman Hank Lebioda gutted out a final round 72 to close out the team scoring for the `Noles.
In all, five Seminioles finished in the top 11, including Seiffert and Rowin Caron, who did not count toward the team scoring.
Starting on the back nine, Seiffert opened birdie-eagle-birdie on his way to a closing round 67 and his 10-under finish. He sandwiched a pair of two-putt birdies around a chip-in from 30 yards left of the cart path for an eagle-2 at the par-4, 11th.
"To chip-in on 11 was a good shot but it was also a lot of luck from where I was," Seiffert admitted. "It was an awesome start to the round."
Tied for second entering the final round, Seiffert was eager to stay in the mix for low individual honors.
"I thought I had to come out and at least get to 10-under to have a chance," said Seiffert, who at one point was locked in a three-way tie for the lead with Caron and Berger at 9-under. "I knew I played a good round out there."
Caron's final round 69 left him alone in fifth place at 9-under for the tournament.