Lynn: High expectations should aid Eagles in quest for 2nd straight NCCAA title

Trey Payne will be one of three Eagles making his NCCAA Championship debut this week.
Trey Payne will be one of three Eagles making his NCCAA Championship debut this week.

By Murray Evans
PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 20, 2013) – A year later, the magnitude of Oklahoma Christian’s win at the National Christian College Athletic Association Championship still boggles the mind.

Rarely does any golf team, no matter how talented, win any tournament by 52 shots – much less one with a national title at stake. If the Eagles weren’t already being targeted by fellow NCCAA squads, they certainly will be after that performance. And OC coach David Lynn, whose team returns to The Hombre Golf Club as one of the favorites for this year’s NCCAA tournament that starts Monday, is OK with that.

“We do have an advantage because we go in with the expectation for ourselves to do well,” Lynn said. “I think any time that you have a winning attitude and create those kinds of expectations – not just created by the coach, but by the team themselves – that’s an advantage.

“I think that our program creates that with the success we’ve had in the past, but especially at that golf course in the tournament last year. … You can’t put a price on that mental advantage. I definitely think other schools know our reputation and that precedes us when we go into a tournament.”

The Eagles will be paired with Union (Tenn.) and Southern Wesleyan (S.C.) in the first round and will tee off on the par-72, 6,410-yard PGA Tour Q-School course at 11:40 a.m.

Last year’s OC team set NCCAA records for low score (838) and margin of victory and almost unfathomably placed all five players among the top eight, meaning every OC player earned All-America honors.

Two of those players are back this year to lead the Eagles this year – sophomore Sam Johnston and senior Alasdair Dalgliesh, who tied for second in 2012 behind now-departed teammate Vilhelm Bogstrand. The experienced gained by Dalgliesh and Johnston at The Hombre last year should prove invaluable, Lynn said.

“Sam and Ali will have an advantage, having played the golf course for three competitive rounds already,” Lynn said. “The experience and the success they had last year, that will be an advantage for them.

The steady Johnston, who also earned NCAA Division II All-America second-team honors during the 2012-13 academic year, has had another strong fall season for OC. He captured medalist honors at the Western New Mexico Intercollegiate in Goodyear, Ariz., and recorded two other top-10 finishes.

He was named NCCAA student-athlete of the week after the win in Arizona and has a stroke average of 71.09, ranking him 12th among Division II players.

Dalgliesh seems to have regained the form that made him a two-time individual winner as a sophomore. In the Eagles’ last event, he led them to a second-place finish in what otherwise was an all-NCAA Division I field in the Bill Ross Intercollegiate in Overland Park, Kan., tying for medalist honors. His stroke average is 71.18, 14th-best in Division II.

But the Eagles, who won two of their four tournaments this fall and have finished no worse than third in any event, are more than a two-man squad. The success of the team has been, in good part, due to the consistent performance of three players – senior Johnny Ellis and juniors Trey Payne and Taylor Williams – who have stepped into starting roles after spending much of their careers outside the Eagles’ top five.

Ellis earned NCCAA student-athlete of the week honors after a top-10 finish at the Ryan Palmer Foundation Invitational in Amarillo, Texas, and posted another top-10 effort in the Bill Ross Intercollegiate. He’s become a solid No. 3 player for the Eagles, one who now is contending for tournament titles.

“Every week he’s playing well,” Lynn said. “He’s been a very nice surprise this semester. I knew he had it inside of him. He’s relaxed out there. He’s playing like a fifth-year senior should.”

Payne and Williams also have shown flashes of brilliance. Williams finished tied for sixth in the season-opening Newman Fall Invitational in Wichita, Kan., while Payne posted a top-20 outing in the same event. Both have shot under-par rounds this fall.

“I think Trey and Taylor know what they need to do,” Lynn said. “I don’t think either of those guys sees himself as a perennial four- or five-man on a team. They both see themselves as guys who can win tournaments and they have won tournaments, maybe not at the college level, but they have won tournaments in their careers. … We need them to play like that.”

The Eagles were ranked No. 18 in the latest Division II coaches’ poll. Three other teams that received votes in that poll figure to be OC’s primary competition this week – Heartland Conference rival Dallas Baptist (Texas), Lee (Tenn.) and Colorado Christian. The Eagles own a pair of wins over Colorado Christian this fall but haven’t seen DBU or Lee.

The rest of the 18-team field will consist of Bethel (Ind.), Cedarville (Ohio), Central Baptist (Ark.), Covenant (Ga.), Emmanuel (Ga.), Indiana Wesleyan, McMurry (Texas), Mid-America Christian, North Greenville (S.C.), Oklahoma Wesleyan, Shorter (Ga.), Southern Wesleyan, Southwestern Christian and Union, last year’s national runner-up.

“I know the field is better this year,” Lynn said. “But the bottom line is that the golf course is tough enough that you’re playing against the golf course. You need to keep the ball in play. You need to hit those tiny greens and stay away from the huge misses on this golf course. We went in last year with that game plan and executed it perfectly and that’s why we were successful. If we can execute it again this  year, we’ll definitely have a good chance to shoot some good scores and be successful.”