It just means more.
That’s a popular slogan used by the SEC which prides itself in the prowess of its athletic teams across college sports including men’s golf.
And for the Vanderbilt men’s team, those words could be used to describe the second straight victory in the SEC Men’s Golf Championship at the Sea Island Golf Club on the Georgia coast for the Commodores.
The third-ranked Commodores delivered a brilliant display of golf this week on the Seaside Course which included holding off the Florida Gators on Sunday morning to win back-to-back conference titles with their 3-2 triumph on the 7,005-yard, par-70 layout which plays along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.
Winning a league championship in a conference as tough as the SEC is a huge accomplishment in its own right. But doing it in consecutive years takes the achievement to another level.
Vanderbilt, the highest-ranked team among the 10 ranked teams from the conference in the latest national poll by Golfweek/Sagarin, agreed with that assessment of their latest triumph on the links.
2022 SEC Champions Vanderbilt Commodores
“Having a target on your back, the spotlight gets bigger. Everybody wants you,” said Vandy senior Reid Davenport
. “It’s just a really good feeling, just trying to overcome everybody who is trying to catch us.”
Added Will Moll
, a junior for the Commodores: “It’s always really cool to do it back-to-back. It’s amazing, which would make this one really cool. We have a really, really good team. Everyone in the whole lineup can play good golf.
“Coach (Scott) Limbaugh has done a great job. He’s built a great culture for this program, and that really carries over to the SEC championship and especially match play. Everyone believes in each other, and when we go out there, everyone just does their job. It’s awesome for Vanderbilt and the program.”
Both Moll and Davenport were among the four players in the Vanderbilt five-man lineup who helped the team win its second-ever conference championship last season. The first SEC title for the program came back in 2017. That tournament also was staged at Sea Island which has hosted the conference championship going back to the 2001 season.
The two other returnees for Vanderbilt from last year’s championship squad were Cole Sherwood
and Harrison Ott
Sherwood, a sophomore who is currently ranked eighth in the collegiate rankings, closed out Sunday’s win for the team when he salvaged a tie on the par-4 16th hole which plays over a tidal creek that meanders through the back nine of the scenic course which hosts the PGA Tour’s RSM Classic every November.
He won his match 3 and 2 after it was still all square through 11 holes. It was the fifth and final match of the day.
“We came in here with a target on our back and we wanted to fight until the end,” said Limbaugh. “We didn’t assume anything, but knew it would take nothing but our best. We’re excited, but really I’m just proud of the boys to be able to handle that kind of pressure, that kind of moment. It says a lot about the competitive character they are made of.”
Limbaugh, who has led the team to all three of its conference championships, sent Moll out first on Sunday morning against Florida’s John DuBois
who won this year’s individual championship on Friday with a 6-under-par total over the 54 holes of stroke play which sets the field for the eight-team match-play tournament to crown the conference winner.
Moll earned the first point in the match for Vanderbilt with his 1-up win over the Gators’ junior whose late rally fell short. DuBois found himself down three holes through 11 after dropping the first two holes on the inward nine. He won the par-5 15th with a birdie and also made a birdie 3 on the 16th to cut his deficit to one.
But, Moll anchored down for the Commodores and held off the run by the individual champion with pars on the final two holes.
“I just tried to keep the pressure on him, just kept trying to hit good shots and make him respond and have to make birdies to beat me,” Moll said.
Davenport followed with the second point for Vanderbilt as he also held off a charge by Florida’s Tyler Wilkes
Up three holes after making an eagle on the shortened par-4 eighth hole, Davenport saw Wilkes surge early in the back nine to draw even five holes to go. Wilkes won the ninth with a par,then made birdie at the par-3 12th and knocked down the flagstick at the par-4 13th to pull even.
Davenport answered with a birdie at No. 14 which plays along the ocean to regain the lead. Wilkes came right back with another birdie on the par-5 15th to square the score again.
But, it was a long putt for birdie by Davenport on 16 that wound up giving him the lead for good. Still, the fireworks weren’t done.
Both players landed their ball within inches of the cup on the par-3 17th for easy birdies. Davenport finished out with a par at the last while Wilkes, who needed birdie to force extra holes, took a five and thus fell tough by a final 2-hole margin.
The Gators won the third and fourth matches on the course with Fred Biondi
defeating Harrison Ott
, 2 and 1, and Ricky Castillo
knocking off Gordon Sargent
by the same 2 and 1 count.
Biondi and Ott were all square through 11 holes before the Florida golfer took charge by winning the next three holes with two pars and a birdie 3 at the 13th. Ott cut his deficit to two holes with a birdie 4 at the 15th, but both players made par on 16 and 17 which gave Biondi the win and Florida its first point.
The Gators got their second point from Castillo who made birdie on five of his first six holes and led by 3 following the first nine over Sargent who birdied holes three through six, but went to the seventh trailing by three holes.
Sargent was still down by three through 13 but he cut Castillo’s advantage to one with birdies on 14 and 16 to win those holes. Castillo, though, finished off this contest with his seventh birdie of the day with a two at the 17th.
With the teams tied 2-2, the last match decided the conference title.
Sherwood and Florida’s Yuxin Lin were not separated by more than a hole over their first nine. Sherwood had a 1-up lead at the turn after making a birdie at the par-3 sixth to regain the lead in the middle of the outgoing nine.
Lin quickly drew even again on the back as he birdied the 10th to square the match. Both competitors parred the 11th before Sherwood’s three on the long par-3 12th was good enough to win the hole and give him the lead once more.
Sherwood proceeded to make birdie at the 14th to go up two holes and wouldn’t look back. His birdie at the par-5 15th gave him a 3-up lead with three to play, and the match ended on the 16th where both players made a bogey.
“Florida made their run, but our guys hung in there, and Cole was able to do what he does,” Limbaugh said. “He kinda showed why he’s one of the best players in the country. We knew the match was coming down on that match, and he got the job done.”
Vanderbilt’s players were there around the 16th green to start their victory celebration out on the course. The SEC Network, which televised the final round, interviewed the happy Vanderbilt head coach right there on the spot after the players, coaches and fans exchanged early hugs, kisses, handshakes and high-fives.
“Florida’s a great team. We respect their coaches and their players. I really love that team. We knew Florida was a really hard team,” Davenport said. “We know what it takes to win, just executing was step two. I’m glad we did.”
Sargent, a true freshman, was the lone newcomer to the Vanderbilt lineup as as the team arrived on St. Simons Island by private plane earlier in the week ready to defend its championship.
Sargent, part of the nation’s top recruiting class by Vandy this past year, made a strong run at the conference individual championship this week. Sargent had a birdie putt on the final hole of regulation Friday afternoon that would have forged a tie with Florida’s DuBois who two-putted from 40 feet at the final hole to clinch the win.
Sargent finished a stroke back of the junior for the Gators as he ended up at 5-under-par for the three rounds, posting three scores in the 60s to lead Vanderbilt to the top seed for match play as the Commodores finished four strokes in front of Texas A&M on the team leaderboard.
Last spring, Vanderbilt toppled Arkansas in the final to claim the SEC title after taking the tee as the No. 3 seed in the eight-team draw.
The Commodores continued to roll in this year’s match play after their impressive stroke-play performance which included all five players competing for the team finishing among the top 25.
Finishing just behind Sargent on the leaderboard was Sherwood who closed the 54 holes two off the lead pace at 4-under over the three rounds. Davenport finished tied for 11th at 2-under, Moll ended up tied for 18th at even-par 210 and Ott tied for 25th at 2-over.
Vanderbilt won its quarterfinal match Saturday morning 3 and 2 over eighth-seeded Mississippi State with Sherwood, Davenport and Moll winning the middle three matches of the five.
In the afternoon semifinals, the Commodores also defeated fourth-seeded LSU by 3 and 2 as Sargent, Sherwood and Davenport all ran away with their matches.
As the SEC champion a second year in a row, Vanderbilt earns an automatic invitation to an upcoming NCAA regional next month. The Commodores should advance to the national championship event where they will be looking to win their first national title after some recent strong runs at the national crown.
“We know what it takes. We still have to get better,” Davenport said. “I know personally, I need to do a lot of things better. “Hopefully, we’re back here again. We just have to tighten up the little things, minimize the little mistakes, make the simple up and downs an up and down.”
But again, the Commodores dropped their anchor along the shores of the ocean this week and sailed away with another league crown as the best team among a deep field that battled it out during a long week of golf on St. Simons Island, Ga.