Indiana men’s golf finished in 12th place out of 14 teams this week in the Palm Beach NCAA Regional. The Hoosiers, who entered as the 10th-ranked team in the region, did not play to their seed and were unable to advance into the next round of the tournament. Indiana needed to finish in the top five teams in order to qualify for the NCAA Finals.
Indiana finished with a total team score of 910, 46-over par after playing 54 holes over the three-day span. The region’s top-seed, Vanderbilt, won the event by 12 strokes with a score of 20-under par.
“Probably one of the frustrating things in my career,” head coach Mike Mayer said, referring to the fact that Indiana has only made the NCAA Finals once out of the now eleven times they’ve qualified for the regional.
Fifth-year senior Ethan Shepherd was the top Indiana golfer, finishing in a tie for 39th in the individual ranks at 226, 10-over par. After a first round of 80, Shepherd settled down and recorded back-to-back rounds of 73 to finish in the top-40 for the fourth time in the 2021-22 season.
“I was thrilled he was able to shoot two outstanding rounds to end his career,” Mayer said.
The Hoosiers struggled in round one as a team on Monday, finding themselves in second-to-last place after posting a team score of 308, 20-over par. The Hoosiers recorded only three birdies as a team on the back nine, compared to 11 bogeys and four double-bogeys — a big reason why Indiana remained in second-to-last place after the first round, ahead of only Loyola Maryland.
For the second straight event, sophomore Clay Merchent led Indiana after the first round. Merchant broke par with a 71 at the Big Ten Championships, and shot a 2-over 74 on Monday. Merchent made birdie putts at hole No. 1 and hole No. 9 to finish the day tied for 22nd. The sophomore played through the round in pain, as he suffered a back injury just days prior playing a practice round. He was replaced by senior Harry Reynolds, who shot 77 and 74, respectively, for rounds two and three.
In the second round on Tuesday, Indiana bested its first round score by four strokes, finishing with a score of 304 and jumping up one spot in the overall standings to twelfth place.
Shepherd’s round on day two began with nine-straight pars and two consecutive birdies to put him on top of the Indiana leaderboard with a score of 73 and in a tie for 39th overall — a score and rank he duplicated during the final round on Wednesday, as well.
Fifth-year senior Evan Yakubov, who made his debut in the starting lineup, recorded the only Indiana eagle at the tenth hole in the second round, which was part of his round of 76. Yakubov also sank back-to-back birdies at hole No. 6 and hole No. 7.
Mayer had a decision to make in round one given the injuries to the team. It was going to be either Reynolds or Yakubov, and Mayer opted to go with the latter.
“We really felt Evan was playing some of his best golf he’d played, and he brought a different energy to the team.” Given that the odds were stacked against the Hoosiers to make it to the NCAA Finals, Mayer wanted to insert someone like Yakubov with positive energy into the lineup.
Over the last four holes of the second round, the five Indiana golfers combined for a score of 17-over par. Nine bogeys and four double-bogeys led to the implosion at the end of the round on Tuesday. Indiana began the second round on the front nine, and by the time they got to “The Bear Trap,” the wind had completely changed, leading to the high scores.
Shepherd wasn’t the only Hoosier to record a 73 during the last round on Wednesday. Senior and No. 1 player Mitch Davis also shot a 73, as the two combined for nine birdies to pace Indiana to a team score of 10-over 298, its best of the tournament. Everyone but sophomore Drew Salyers recorded birdies at the tenth hole on Wednesday.
Indiana was one of just three teams to improve their scores every day over the course of the three-day tournament. Mayer said the golf course didn’t change difficulty each day, and the fact that Indiana got more acclimated to the surface was the main reason why they improved as a team each round.
Shepherd needed to finish at the top of the individual leaderboard amongst teams that finished outside of the top-five to advance as an individual to the NCAA Finals. The fifth-year senior finished 13 strokes behind Gardner Webb’s Zack Byers, who topped those individual standings.
Mayer said it was interesting that three Indiana schools (Notre Dame, Purdue, and Indiana) were placed in the same regional, given that the Bermuda Grass surface at the PGA National Resort is much different than the Bentgrass, commonly found in the Midwest.
“It’s almost like a foreign surface,” Mayer said. “It’s really tough when you’re competing against schools that are playing on that type of surface all the time.
This was the 11th time that Indiana has made the NCAA Regional, and the second time that they have finished twelfth with the first being in 2009. This ends Indiana’s season, as the Hoosiers will be back in action in the fall for their 2022-23 campaign.