Lynn's national-title team (Lynn Athletics/Twitter photo)
Minutes before the first match went out for the NCAA Division II national championship final, Lynn head coach Andy Walker played paparazzi. He looked over at his Knights huddled up on the driving range and he snapped a picture. There is perhaps no better image of what this team stands for than that.
“When I saw that,” Walker said, “it just kind of calmed me down. These guys are going to get it done.”
When Lynn pulled off a 3-2 defeat of Lincoln Memorial in the medal-match play final at the Resort at Glade Springs in Daniels, W.Va., the Knights became the second team in recent NCAA Division II men’s golf history to defend a national title. Barry did it in 2013-14.
This Lynn team is deep, and after taking the No. 2 seed by finishing second in stroke play at the start of the week, Lynn entered every round of match play as the highest seed. That gave Walker the option to put the first player on the board or to defer. It’s not hard to come up with three points when four of your players are ranked among Golfstat’s top 26 players in the country (and all are within the top 45). Walker always deferred.
In medal match play, every match goes 18 holes. The player with the lowest total score at the end of the round wins the point. Lynn players did that by huge margins in the first two match-play rounds.
Junior Carlos Bustos won his quarterfinal match against Cal State Monterey Bay’s Edward Hackett by 14 shots as Lynn advanced through that match by a 4-0-1 margin. Later that afternoon, Lynn defeated West Florida by a 4-1 margin.
A year ago, Lynn sweated out the final minutes of the championship match. This year, that happened in reverse against Lincoln Memorial.
Lynn huddles at the NCAA tournament
“We played with Lincoln Memorial in regionals and they’re playing really good, inspired golf,” Walker said. “They were fired up. … They were the team I thought didn’t have anything to lose and they were going to come out firing hard. I knew they weren’t afraid of us.”
Lincoln Memorial coach Travis Muncy threw out Dan Bradbury, his best player, to lead off. Walker matched with Gana with the thought that such an experienced player could get an early point against anyone. Even if not, Walker still had strength in the back of his lineup.
He put out first-semester freshman Agustin Errazuriz, a player who finished eighth at the Latin America Amateur this winter, for the next match.
“He’s so fearless, he’s just a little bulldog,” Walker said. “He’s not going to be afraid of that situation and that moment.”
No matter what part of the lineup Walker looked at, the intimidation factor just wasn’t there.
“If we could get one of those two matches, I thought we’d be in a great position,” Walker said.
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As it turned out, Lynn got neither point of the first two points. Bradbury birdied the final hole to beat Gana by one shot, and Errazuriz fell three shots short of Sam Broadhurst.
“When it got down 2-0, it got a little unnervy for a little bit,” Walker said.
For the win, the next three guys in Lynn’s lineup – Bustos, Giovanni Manzoni and Jorge Villar – won by a collective 17 shots. Villar won the anchor match by seven shots. It was as stress-free an ending for Lynn as you could have asked for.
In the Lynn huddle, Walker is the new guy, having taken over as head coach when Andrew Danna left at the end of last season to take a job as the LSU men’s assistant. Lynn players were very involved in Walker’s hiring, and as soon as Walker met his potential new squad, he felt he clicked.
Walker came from Phoenix, Ariz., where he coached South Mountain Community College to back-to-back NJCAA national titles in 2015-16. He played professionally for 11 years. He felt it gave him a “this guy has been here and he’s done it” kind of credibility among his Lynn players.
Under Walker, Lynn won five times this season. That’s the most for a first-year head coach in program history. At the national championship, his players made it clear to Walker that they would go out in whatever order he put them in, and they would do their best to win a point against any other player. Essentially, they handed over the reins.
“The good thing is no one on our team is afraid to play anybody,” Walker said.
As a player, Walker knows how far a tight team bond can go. Cohesive teams win championships. Walker was a player on Pepperdine’s 1997 national title-winning team. Even though he thinks the 1996 Waves squad was arguably more talented, the ’97 team was closer.
“I think it is (rare), but I think all great teams have it,” Walker said of that unspoken something that his Lynn team thrives on.
He first noticed it when he flew to the Dominican Republic in January to watch five of his men compete for respective countries in the LAAC. Gana won the LAAC in 2017. Errazuriz chased the title this year.
While many players spent time with their federations that week, Lynn players still sought each other out (it helps, of course, that three of the five are members of the Chilean national team).
Back on the Lynn campus, there is a picture drawn on the white board in Walker’s office. It’s in Gana’s hand. Below it, Gana simply wrote “family.”
It’s Lynn’s driving word.