The UC Irvine men’s golf team is off to West Lafayette, IN, to compete with the top 30 teams in the nation for the national championship.
The Anteaters, ranked 46th, finished third in the NCAA East Regional at Council Fire Golf Club in Chattanooga, TN on Saturday.
UCI finished higher than 14 other teams, all of whom were ranked in the top 50.
“We feel terrific, the guys are excited. We have come a long way, we’ve been working hard,” Head Coach Paul Smolinski said.
After finishing behind fellow anteater John Chin in the Big West Championships, junior Sean Shahi turned in an impressive fourth-place overall finish with a nine under-par 204 three-round total.
Big West Golfer of the Year Chin finished 14th at 5-under 208.
“Shahi finished fourth, that was huge. John had a great tournament. And Chin’s round today was extremely huge. ”
As a team, the Anteaters finished 16-under 836. Georgia, the top ranked team in the nation, finished 41-under at 811. Augusta State finished second at 20-under 832. The top 10 of the 27 teams advanced to the NCAA Championships.
“We don’t see those teams, I’m sure they didn’t really knew who we were. It was an advantage for us; we were loose and just played,” Smolinski said.
One of the most impressive feats of the tournament came out of junior Tim Cha. Cha shot 7-under par 64 in the final round on Saturday, which was the lowest of the day in the 141-player field. He converted on nine birdies and two bogeys. He finished 29th overall with a two-under total of 211.
Senior Kenny Kim was the other Anteater to finish in the top 40 as he finished 38th at 213.
“We liked the course. It was a really straightforward golf course; similar to courses we play in practices every week. There was a certain comfort level for our players from the beginning,” Smolinski said.
It was not all good for UCI, as they found themselves in 13th at the end of the first round with a one under total of 283.
“I told them that we were in a good spot, and if we had a solid day two we could be right back in the mix,” Smolinski said.
The Anteaters turned things around on Friday as they climbed 10 spots in the second round. With a nine-under total of 275, the Anteaters brought themselves back in contention. Shahi shot an impressive six-under 65 and Chin shot a two-under 69, as did Kim.
“The scores were really bunched up. We were 13th, but we knew if we had a decent round the next day we could put ourselves in contention,” Smolinski said.
The rest is history.
This will be UCI’s first trip to the NCAA Championship since 2001, when the Anteaters finished third at the West Regional. UCI also advanced to the NCAA Division I Finals in 1992.