Lepp Wins NCAA Golf Title
June 4, 2005
Owings Mills, MD -- With the drop of a two-foot putt during a third playoff hole, Washington junior James Lepp won the NCAA Division I Men's Golf Championship to cap a remarkable final round effort. Lepp, a native of Abbotsford, B.C., rallied from a six-shot deficit during the final day of play by shooting a course record 7-under 63 at the Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mill, Md. to force the playoff with Pepperdine's Michael Putnam, a Tacoma native.
Led by Lepp's play, Washington shot 4-under 276 Saturday to place third, the best finish in the program's history. The Huskies completed the 72-hole tournament at 33-over 1153. Georgia ran away with its second team title, shooting 1135 to finish 11 strokes ahead of Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs, who led from wire-to-wire, finished at 1135 while the Yellowjackets were seven strokes better than Washington at 1146. BYU was fourth at 1154.
Washington's finish marked the second consecutive year the Huskies have placed in the top-10. Last year's team was sixth, but Lepp did not play while sitting out the season after transferring from Illinois. As a freshman, he was 13th at the NCAAs for the Illini.
After struggling to a 76 during Friday's rain-soaked third round, Lepp entered Saturday tied for eighth with four other players at 3-over 213. He had shot 70 and 67 during the first two days of play. Putnam held a one-shot lead over Georgia Tech's Roberto Castro, who went on to finish third behind the two Northwest golfers.
"It hasn't been a very good year for me until now," said Lepp, who became the first Canadian to win the title. "I haven't had much confidence, but this week, especially today, it all came together. What a great way to end the year.
"It was one of those rounds where you get everything out of it," said Lepp of his best collegiate score. "Those rounds are very rare."
"It was an unbelievable effort and a great honor for James," said Husky coach Matt Thurmond. "It has to be one of the best rounds in the history of the championship. Playing on a course like this, as long as it played all week, to play the way he did is just amazing. He made some great up and downs and converted when he had the chance for a birdie putt."
Lepp joins a distinctive list of Pac-10 players who have won the NCAA title that includes Arizona State's Phil Mickelson (1989, 1990, 1992), USC's Scott Simpson (1976, 1977) and Stanford's Tiger Woods (1996).
Starting on the back nine, Lepp pared his first three holes before recording birdies on the par-5 13th hole and the short par-4 14th hole. A bogie on the lengthy 480-yard 17th hole dropped him back to one-under. He then birdied 18, a hole where he would eventually win the playoff, to turn at 3-under.
Lepp ripped off birdies on the first three holes on the front side of the course to push himself to five-under. He used a deft wedge shot on the par-5 seventh hole to make a four-foot birdie putt and then he one-putted the par-3 eighth hole to improve to seven-under.
After his drive drifted into the first cut on the par-4, 435-yard ninth hole, he overshot the green with his approach shot and then found his ball plugged in the rough. He executed a beautiful soft wedge to within several feet of the cup and saved par.
"That," said Lepp, "is a shot I will always remember."
Putnam bogied the 16th hole as Lepp was finishing his round to fall back into a tie at 4-under. Putnam's approach shot on the 18th hole spun back below the green and he was forced to make a long 12-footer to make par and force the playoff. Ironically, he would face nearly the same putt on the third playoff hole.
Playing No. 18 as the first playoff hole, Lepp found himself in trouble when his fairway iron landed in a bunker just right of the green's pin. A soft wedge shot and 10-foot put kept him alive as Putnam two-putted from 30 feet.
Moving to the No. 9 hole, both players hit the green in regulation and two-putted to force the deciding third playoff hole.
Lepp outdrove Putnam on their second trip to No. 18, but then saw his approach shot land 40 feet from the pin on the lower left side of the green. Putnam's fairway shot was also left, but five feet inside of Lepp. Putting first, Lepp lagged his putt just two feet from the pin. Putnam's first putt rolled almost six feet past the cup and close to the spot where he ended regulation with his lengthy par effort. This time Putnam's putt missed by two inches and the cool-handed Lepp made his par to claim the title.
"After the second playoff hole I told him, 'Come on, you have to be aggressive. You've given him his two opportunities and he didn't make a birdie. Now it's your chance,'" Thurmond said. "He was fortunate. Mike is a tremendous player and I did not expect him to three-putt that."
Ironically, in Lepp's only other first-place finish during the season, he tied with Putnam for top honors at Oregon's Duck Invitational. There was no playoff to decide the medalist of that tournament.
In addition to winning the national title, Lepp was honored by the Golf Coaches Association of America as a first-team All-American and as the recipient of the Arnold Palmer Award as the national collegiate champion. Lepp's win also earned him a spot in a sectional qualifying round for the U.S. Open. He had previously failed to advance at a local qualifying round.
Lepp's dramatic victory was just part of the Huskies' success story on Saturday. UW's third-place finish bettered the fourth-place showing in 1999 as the best team effort at the NCAA Championships.
Freshman Zach Bixler (Richland) played an important role in UW's last-day run. He shot 1-under 69 during the final 18 holes, his best score of the tournament. Sophomores Erik Olson (Renton) and Alex Prugh (Spokane) both contributed 72s to round out UW's scoring. Joe Panzeri (Boise) was the Huskies' non-counter with a 74.
Olson, the Pac-10 Champion, finished the tournament in 27th place at 10-over 290. Panzeri was 51st overall at 297 while Bixler was 54th at 298. Prugh finished at 58th with a 299.
"It shows how much heart these guys have," Olson said. "For James to come out here and shoot 63. He was not scared to back down on a really hard golf course during the final round of nationals. No one backed down. Everyone stepped up and did their thing just like we did all postseason. We are so closely knit that I don't think any of us will let each other down. We knew what we had to do."
The tournament capped a postseason run that saw the Huskies win their first Pac-10 title since 1988 and a third-place showing at the NCAA West Regional. Washington entered the NCAAs ranked 19th in the coaches poll and 24th in the Golfweek standings.
"We have had great players," said Thurmond, who was earlier named the Pac-10 Conference Coach of the Year. "One of the unique things about our guys is they really, really care a lot and this means a lot to them."
Under the guidance of Thurmond, the Huskies have placed 11th, 11th, sixth and third in the last four NCAA Championships.
The Huskies return all five players who participated at this year's NCAA Championships. Next year's tournament is scheduled to be played in Sunriver, Ore. The Washington lineup included a junior, two sophomores and two freshmen. The team has a distinctive Northwest flavor. Three players hail from the state of Washington, one from Idaho and one from British Columbia.
The Golf Channel will air its final day coverage of the tournament at 10 p.m. PT. Complete results are available at golfstat.com.
2005 NCAA Divison I Men's Golf Championships
Team Results 1. Georgia 274-284-297-280-1135 2. Georgia Tech 288-281-295-282-1146 3. Washington 289-285-303-276-1153 4. BYU 285-290-304-275-1154 5. New Mexico 289-300-291-278-1158 6. USC 290-282-303-284-1159 7. Kentucky 291-292-294-284-1161 8. UNLV 284-290-302-286-1162 8. Duke 288-286-303-285-1162 10. Augusta State 286-289-302-287-1164 11. Arizona State 291-285-301-293-1170 11. Tennessee 279-288-313-290-1170 13. Georgia State 287-287-305-294-1173 13. Georgia Southern 286-298-299-290-1173 15. Oklahoma State 292-289-301-296-1178
Pac-10 NCAA Individual Golf Champions