SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Excuse the wandering lost in the desert and left to die metaphors, but Vanderbilt was on the brink of extinction Saturday morning.
The Commodores shot 13-over-par as a team in Friday’s opening round of the NCAA Championships – ending the first day in 23rd place out of 30 teams – and didn’t get off to a much better start with nine bogeys before making the turn in the second round.
At one point early Saturday Reid Davenport’s tee shot jumped the cart path and found the sandy desert rough near a prickly bush. The junior had to putt his ball six feet forward just to set up his third shot.
On the par 4 15th just minutes later William Moll missed the green long and to the right and was faced with a chip shot out of the heavy grass. His approach missed badly and rolled down an incline past the hole.
The sophomore’s inability to stick with the game plan made head coach Scott Limbaugh hotter than the triple-degree temperatures.
Moll and Davenport, the team’s two steadiest and consistent golfers for much of the 2020-21 season, were 6-over-par and 13-over-par, respectively, after 36 holes. Their uncharacteristic play appeared to be a bad omen for the Dores.
“I was just missing my targets by a little bit and I was putting myself in bad spots and out here bad spots typically mean bogey – sometimes double,” Moll said. “So I was missing spots and making bogeys and not giving myself as many birdie chances.
“(Saturday) after the round I worked on my swing a little bit. I got a new swing thought in my head that I was mainly paying attention to that all round. I definitely struck the ball a lot better (Sunday) and gave myself more chances and less short-sides.”
Sunday’s round, with Vandy knowing it had to finish among the top 15 in order to stay alive in the tournament? Well, that’s when the Dores began to turn it on with the same type of team golf it played while winning the SEC and Kingston Springs Regional championships.
Moll and Davenport each found two birdies through their first nine holes. Moll then stayed hot on his second nine with two more birdies while Davenport battled his way to a 1-over-par 71.
Freshman Cole Sherwood, who perhaps sparked the team with a 4-under-par round Saturday, continued to play steady Sunday and finished 1-over-par.
Vandy was led by Michael Shears after the first round thanks to his even-par 70. The junior then struggled on the second day with a 75 before regrouping with a pivotal 69 on Sunday.
Matthew Riedel stepped up in a big way Saturday by shooting a 2-under-par before ending his 54 holes at 6-over-par for the tournament. Seniors Harrison Ott and Luke Zieman along with freshman Jansen Preston have been there every step of the way cheering the team along.
All in all, the Commodores never panicked when faced with a devastating end to a superb season and, thus, lived to play at least one more day.
“Everyone on the this team fights a lot for the team and everyone is really tough,” Moll said. “I’m just really proud of how everyone is fighting today and (Saturday).”
Not only did Vanderbilt survive and advance to Monday’s play, it also put itself in a prime position to make the cut for Tuesday’s match play. The top eight teams after the final round of stroke play will advance to the quarterfinals and then the two remaining teams will move on to Wednesday’s national championship match.
The Commodores go into their fourth round just one shot ahead of ninth-place Pepperdine and three strokes in front of 10-place Clemson. So while a lot of the grunt work has been done after three days in the desert, the oasis remains in the distance.
“We know where we have to be when this thing finishes,” Sherwood said after Saturday’s round. “We’re just trying to play the best we can. We’re all in a pretty good spot physically and we know what we’re capable of and we’re just ready to get after it.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.