Darton’s men’s golf team is all smiles after winning the Region XVII Golf Tournament by 40 strokes on Sunday at Stonebridge.
ALBANY — Sure, Darton’s golfers have bounced around a bit this year, looking for the tournament that might define this team, and this season.
The Cavaliers found all that and more Sunday on a day when they had to look right into the face of a brutal wind that tossed its way around the Stonebridge County Club, gusting 20 to 30 mph on the final day of the Region XVII Golf Tournament.
Wouldn’t you know it, the Cavs blew away the field.
“We put a light spanking on the rest of the field,’’ said an elated Bill Jones III, who kept the tradition alive at Darton in his first year as the golf coach by leading his team to the 11th consecutive title.
Darton didn’t just win. The Cavaliers, who led Gordon by just eight strokes when they teed off Sunday morning, danced off the course with a 40-stroke win.
That’s no misprint. Darton swept the first four spots and fired a 292 on Sunday to finish the three-day tournament at 866.
Gordon was second at 906. ABAC was third (930), Georgia Military was fourth (990) and Andrew College was fifth at 996.
“We played really well, and we got a little help,’’ Jones said. “Gordon had one of its players withdraw.’’
That was Kyle Cameron, who tried to play with an injured knee. He shot a 72 on Friday, ballooned to 86 on Saturday and finally left the field because his leg was just too bad to continue.
Still, Darton did enough damage on its own to win easily.
Start with Joe Sakulpolphaisan, the top junior college player in the nation. He led wire to wire and shot a wind-blown 72 on Sunday to finish with an 8-under 208.
He was only golfer in the field to finish under par.
“Joe is something else,’’ Jones said. “He could have played six to eight shots better. I’m sure glad he is back here with us.’’
Darton’s Chase Jones was second at 219 after shooting a 72 on Sunday, and Darton’s next two golfers tied for third as Shad Tuten and Nick Green both ended the tournament with 4-over 220s. Gordon’s John Barfield was fifth at 222.
Gordon’s 324 on Sunday took all of the drama out of the tournament, and Darton knew just what to do with it.
“They just wanted to win,’’ Jones said. “They grinded all day. They didn’t want to be the first team to lose the region championship after 10 years. They were trying to prove themselves. They did it for the 11th one in a row. They did it for pride, for the school, and for confidence.’’
And they did it with style, ripping the field in a monumental — and unforgettable — effort.
“You don’t see that very often, winning by 40 strokes,’’ Jones said. “Last year we won this tournament by five strokes.’’
No one thinks about winning by 40.
But that’s what Darton did, and it should lift this team as the Cavs head to nationals next month. Darton qualified for the national tournament last Tuesday by finishing third in the district tournament and didn’t need to win the Region VII to earn a berth.
The Cavs might have earned a lot more.
“This will give us confidence going into nationals,’’ said Jones, who team will play for it all in a three day tournament in Newton, Kan., beginning May 15. “They did a really solid job in tough conditions, showing they are really a solid team. We only had one round in the entire tournament when someone shot a 75 all weekend. We’re playing much better than we have played in the last couple of weeks.’’
Knowing they didn’t have to win the region to qualify for the nationals makes the romp that much more impressive for the Cavaliers.
“If we had won and not played well, it (the region title) would have not meant as much,’’ Jones said. “To win and play badly would have hurt us going into nationals.’’
Instead, Darton played into the teeth of the blistering wind, and destroyed the field.
“The win was brutal,’’ Jones said. “For instance, on the ninth hole you had to hit right into the wind, and that hole played 1.3 shots over par. In the second round that hole played an average of 0.12 over par.’’
But Darton ignored the wind, forgot some of its tougher moments this season and remembered how to win.
“We started the day (with an eight-stroke lead) and they had to play under pressure,’’ Jones said. “They shot a better round — even though the scores were higher — than they did in the first two rounds because of the conditions.’’
Jones said the pressure helped Darton run away from Gordon.
“We’ve been playing Meridian, the No. 1 team in the country,’’ he said. “Gordon hasn’t been playing in that kind of heat like we have this year. We’re used to playing (in that kind of competition) and that kind of pressure.’’
By the end of the day — and the tournament — there was no pressure at all. Darton had taken that away, just easing away after taking all the air out of the balloon.
There was nothing left but the wind — a wind that now seems to be at the Cavaliers’ back as they blow into Kansas next month for the nationals.