M.J. Daffue leads Lamar golf team to SLC title
McKINNEY – Senior M.J. Daffue successfully defended his Southland Conference individual title Wednesday at Stonebridge Ranch Country Club, leading the Lamar men's golf team to the title at the 2012 Southland Conference Championship.
Lamar needed one playoff hole to capture its 24th team title in men's golf after starting the final round seven strokes behind Central Arkansas. The Cardinals shot a final round 292 (+4) on the par-72, 7,346-yard Pete Dye Signature Course to catch UCA and force the playoff.
Senior Kevin Hesbois, who helped the Cardinals win their last team title in 2009, knocked down a 10-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole to get the Cards out to the lead. None of the five UCA players could manage better than a birdie, and Lamar claimed the crown after Daffue tapped in for the clinching par.
"This is a very difficult golf course so I thought we would do well since it's a ball striking golf course and that's what we're good at," said Brian White who has guided the Cardinals to four conference titles as head coach. "I told the guys all we can do is go out and play a great round. If we shoot even par, we'd have a good chance to win.
"It was stressful to go into the playoff because we actually had built a four-stroke lead and then gave it back as we had three guys three putt on 17. It's very satisfying to get this win, though, because I believed we had the best team coming in."
Daffue had already locked up the individual title, becoming the first player to successfully defend his individual title since McNeese State's Tim Graham won three straight from 1977-79. The 2011 Southland Conference Player of the Year finished the 54-hole tournament at even-par 216.
After opening with a 72, Daffue carded a 74 in Tuesday's second round before closing with a 70 to catch and pass UCA's Antonio Costa for the individual title. Daffue managed four birdies Wednesday, with just one double bogey as he finished the tournament three strokes ahead of Costa.
"This was a tough course so I knew that anything close to par would have a good chance to win," said Daffue. "I didn't play my best, but my ball striking was great all week. I had a little bad luck on (hole No.) nine, but the back nine was very stress-free.
"I feel like I played a big role in the team title with me winning. I told the guys we still had a chance to win even though we struggled a little at the end. It's great to win as a team, especially for us seniors."
The Cardinals and Bears each finished with 54-hole totals of 890 (+26) to qualify for the playoff. UT Arlington placed third at 903, with Stephen F. Austin (914) and Texas State (917) rounding out the top five.
Southeastern Louisiana placed sixth in the 10-team field with a three-round score of 918, followed by Sam Houston State (923), UTSA (932), Nicholls (940) and McNeese State (965).
Freshman Luke Jerling, who picked up his first individual title heading into the conference tournament, tied for fifth place. Jerling closed his first SLC Tournament with a 74 to give him a final score of 223 (+7).
After carding a 4-over-par 40 on the front nine Wednesday, Jerling birdied three of the first five holes on the back nine to get back to 1-over. He would three putt the 17th hole before taking par on 18 to finish with his 74.
Senior Xavier Feyaerts held the opening round lead after a bogey-free 69, but struggled to an 82 in round two. He would rebound for a solid 73 on Wednesday to finish in a tie for seventh with a 224 total (+8). Feyaerts led Lamar with six birdies in his final round, but also had a double bogey and five bogeys.
Hesbois finished tied for 20th in the 50-player field with a 230 total (+14). The hero of the playoff hole opened with a 75, posted a second round 80 and then closed with another 75. After struggling on the greens all week, Hesbois was happy to help the team at the end.
"I was really fired up after that went in," said Hesbois about his putt in the playoff. "I saw that as an opportunity to help the team because I kind of slumped my way home. I just hit it firm and it went in. This is very special to win this as a senior after not winning it the last two years. I wanted this very badly."
Lamar's final golfer was redshirt junior Erik Knudsen who finished in a tie for 29th. Knudsen posted rounds of 80-79-76 for a 235 total (+19).
The win gives the Cardinals the Southland Conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Regionals. Lamar has gone to 10 of the last 11 NCAA Regionals as a team.