The NCAA men’s golf season is a little different than the seasons of other NCAA sports.
Whereas some teams in other sports might play half their games at home and the rest on the road, UNC men's golf is playing 10 of its 11 regular-season tournaments away from Chapel Hill this season, with some as far as Arizona, California or Hawaii. That is why taking advantage of the season's one home tournament is so important.
This weekend, the Tar Heels did just that.
For the second year in a row, North Carolina lifted the trophy in the Tar Heel Intercollegiate at Finley Golf Course, finishing with an overall score of one-under-par to beat second-place Illinois by six shots. It was the team’s first win of the season, and its first in almost a year, with the last coming at the Western Intercollegiate in April of 2018.
“It’s always great to be at home,” head coach Andrew DiBitetto said after the tournament. “It’s something we do not get the chance to do very often, but I’m just really proud of our guys.”
Despite being at home, the tournament was no cakewalk for UNC. The wind was whipping throughout the weekend, especially on Saturday — the opening day — when every golfer in the field played two full rounds.
After battling the elements for 36 holes, the Tar Heels found themselves a shot behind Illinois heading into the final round. This was not an easy spot considering the Fighting Illini have been one of the most successful programs in America in recent years. That night, DiBitetto spoke with his team about not shying away from the challenge.
“We talked about how excited we were for the opportunity,” he said. “We were excited to be competing against these teams, especially Illinois. If you look at what they’ve done over the last five, 10, 15 years, they’re one of the better teams in the country and one of the more clutch programs in the country. And what we talked about was not really playing against them but just playing the golf course. We believe that we have really good players and we believed that if we played our golf course the way we know how, we would win.”
That belief translated to results on Sunday afternoon. UNC’s top four players all turned in steady and relatively mistake-free rounds, despite the wind remaining a factor. Austin Hitt, Ryan Burnett, Josh Martin and Dougie Ergood posted 71, 72, 72 and 73 respectively, resulting in an even-par overall score on the day, while Illinois’ top four could only manage a collective seven-over-par.
“The last few tournaments, we’ve been really close,” Hitt said. “We’ve been trending up but we’ve kind of stuttered right at the end, so today we really wanted to just focus on playing the course. When I made the final putt, I had no idea if we had won or not, I just wanted to focus on my own game and see where it stacked up.”
It stacked up pretty well for the Tar Heels, who finished on top of a leaderboard of 14 teams from around the country. Hitt ended up tied for second individually with a final score of three-under, six shots back of Illinois’ Adrien Dumont de Chassart in first place, while Ergood and Martin both tied for sixth at one-under.
“Give our guys a lot of credit,” DiBitetto said. “I don’t think it was the prettiest day but they fought really, really hard and competed really hard, and they earned the right to pick up a trophy at the end.”
The win serves as a welcome confidence boost for a young team with around three weeks left before the ACC Championships.
“I think it’s just big for this group,” DiBitetto said. “It’s a young group and for them to be in contention starting the day one shot back, to go through all of the feelings and nerves and pressure of a final round, isn’t going to do anything but help us coming down the stretch.”
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