Liberty wins first Island Resort Collegiate Golf Championship

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HARRIS, Mi. The key to good scoring in golf doesn't change, no matter the golf course or the age of the golfer. James Piot of Michigan State University proved that point here this weekend, keeping his shots in play to claim medalist honors at the inaugural Island Resort Intercollegiate at Sage Run Golf Course (September 1-2). The Spartan junior finished 54 holes with a 9-under-par 207 to win by three strokes at the year-old course.

Liberty University rallied down the stretch to edge Purdue University by a stroke for the team title in the season-opening tournament. The Flames finished with 855. East Carolina and University of Central Florida shared third at 859, with MSU fifth at 860.

"I just kept the ball in play. That is a big factor out here," Piot said before accepting the medalist trophy. He had been working on some swing adjustments and said "they worked out for the best. I left myself with a lot of birdie looks."

He had five birdies in Monday's final 18 holes, a lot of them set up by a driver that kept him within range for splendid approach shots. "My driver was pretty solid and kept me in play," he said.

After missing a five-foot birdie on No. 16, he birdied No. 17 from about 20 feet, basically giving up on the putt as it rolled to the hole before it fell into the cup. "My putter was not as hot as before," he admitted.

Assistant coach Dan Ellis, a former MSU golfer from Negaunee, accompanied Piot for the entire final round. "Dan helped me stay mentally in the game. He kept me in it," he said.

One of those moments came on No. 5, with a sharp incline to the par 3 green. Piot pulled his drive left into long fescue that is covered with small rocks. He was the only one out of 15 golfers to miss the green among the closing five threesomes.

The two Spartans chatted about the chip shot before Piot gently lofted the ball to within five feet. Then he climbed onto the short grass and drained the putt to save par.

Piot posted rounds of 68-70-69 to slip past a trio of 210s posted by Nick Dentino and Joe Weiler of Purdue and Kieran Vincent of Liberty.

Weiler, among the pace setters all day Monday, settled into the tie with par 72, which was the only par round by the top trio over the two days. "We all played well," Weiler said of the Boilermakers. "We all could have found a shot here and there. We're really young. This is a good start to our season."

Only a handful of players had seen Sage Run before practice rounds on Friday and Saturday. "Our first reaction was this course was really going to be tough," said Weiler. "It was a good test. You definitely have to find your line off the tee."

Several blind shots, off the tee and into the green, and firm, undulating greens are part of the Paul Albanese design that features extensive elevation changes and rough edges around the bunkers.

Liberty coach Jeff Thomas said the Flames "kept playing until the end. We didn't think we would have a chance, but that is college golf. We just kept playing."

Thomas said Vincent and Jonathon Yaun were key players for the Flames, with Yaun tying for 12th with teammate Alexandre Fuchs at 216. Ervin Chang was 14th at 217, giving the Flames four players in the top 14.

"We were chipping and putting pretty good when it came down to the end," Thomas said of the Flames, who finished 25th in this spring's NCAA tournament.

This was the earliest season start for Liberty, which normally opens at Duke. "We wanted to play before we get to Duke, then this tournament opened up," said Thomas.
The tournament was proposed by South Dakota State University coach Casey VanDamme, who was born and raised in Perkins, Mich., about 50 miles northwest of Sage Run and who approached Island Resort and Casino officials about hosting the event.

"Everyone did a good job," said VanDamme, who hosts four tournaments for the Jackrabbits. "This didn't feel like a second-year course. It feels like it's been here for a while. I don't know if it could have gone any better. This will help us get a better field in the future."

Team scores: Liberty University 855, Purdue University 856, East Carolina University and University of Central Florida 859, Michigan State University 860, University of Kentucky 873, University of North Florida 879, South Dakota State University 895, Detroit Mercy 914, Northern Michigan University 965.

Top 15 individuals: James Piot, Michigan State, 207; Nick Dentino and Joe Weiler, Purdue, and Kieran Vincent, Liberty, 210; Clement Charmasson, Central Florida, 211; Blake Taylor and Tim Bunten, East Carolina, 213; Tommy Cao, Central Florida, and Tony Taylor II, MSU, 214; Alex Goff, Kentucky, and Drew Angelo, North Florida, 215; Jonathon Yaun and Alexandre Fuchs, Liberty, 216; Ervin Chang, Liberty, 217; Allen Hamilton, Kentucky, and Teddy Tetak, Central Florida, and Andrew Farraye, Purdue, 218.