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May 30, 2024

War Eagle: Auburn captures 1st NCAA men’s golf title

By Gregg Dewalt, Alabama Golf News Editor
Auburn NCAA team

Dramatic final match win seals victory

The NCAA Men’s Golf Championship came down to the final group, and an Auburn player who never trailed in match play nailed down the Tigers’ first national title Wednesday evening.

Senior J.M. Butler made a routine two-putt par on the 17th hole to clinch a 2&1 win over Florida State’s Luke Clanton, giving the Tigers a 3-2 victory over the Seminoles at the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa’s North Course in California.

After the two teams – both of whom were bidding for their first national title – split the first four matches, it came down to Butler vs. Clanton. And it was Butler who delivered in a match in which was tied through 11 holes.

It was the 10th victory of the season for the Auburn Tigers, who entered the NCAA Men’s Golf Championship ranked No. 1. They made it through stroke play qualifying to earn the No. 6 seed in match play and then took out Virginia 3-1, Ohio State 3-2 and finally Florida State, which was seeded No. 5.

Freshmen Koivun, Valdes deliver

Auburn’s super freshman All-American Jackson Koivun delivered a 5&4 win for the first point, and fellow All-American Brendan Valdes won his match 4&3. Florida countered with wins in the next two matches to turn the spotlight onto the Butler-Clanton match.

Butler went 1-up on the 12th hole with a par and went 2-up by winning the 15th hole. He halved the 16th hole with a nifty up-and-down par from a bunker. Needing just a halve on one of the final two holes, Butler took care of business my rifling an iron shot to within 15 feet of the hole on No. 17. When Clanton’s birdie chip lipped out, all Butler had to do was cozy his birdie putt next to the hole. Clanton conceded the winning par, setting off a frenzied celebration by the Tigers.

“A college career isn’t complete without a national championship and we were lucky to win a conference championship and a national championship,” Butler told the Golf Channel. “This is for all my teammates who push me every single day; the coaches – Coach [Nick] Clinard and Coach (Chris) Williams who work their butts off, and really my teammates. They are the best. The best.”

It was the second straight year that the SEC has won the men’s golf national championship. Florida won the 2023 title.

Although it came down to his match, Butler said he kept his emotions in check over the final holes with the title on the line.

“Honestly, nothing. I was feeling nothing,” he said. “I prepared for this moment my entire life. I have worked extremely hard for this, and all I had to do was get out of my own way and I knew I would come out on top.”

Clinard, in his 15th season as the Tigers head coach and 23rd overall, had a simple explanation for this season’s success.

Nick Clinard: ‘They have a shared vision’

“The culture. That locker room. The connectivity; the vision. They have a shared vision and that equals a greater vision,” Clinard said. “They are so connected – they hang out together; they practice together; they work out together. They challenge each other. They push each other. They encourage each other and they inspire each other. I can’t be more proud of them right here – the Auburn Tigers.”

With a stacked recruiting class that included Koivun, and returning stalwarts like Butler and Valdes, Clinard anticipated a good season on the horizon.

“We knew we had a good freshman class coming and had a good nucleus coming back,” Clinard said. “I knew if they kept working hard and were good mentally, and stayed in a high state of mind they could be successful. And here you go. Look what they did – 10 wins. I told them if they won this tournament they would go down as one of the best college golf teams in the history of college golf. I think we accomplished that today.”

Auburn beat a Florida State team coached by an Alabama native. Trey Jones is a Cullman native who earned his undergraduate degree from the University of North Alabama. He spent one season with the Lions as an assistant before moving to Wallace State Community College in Hanceville.

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Featured image coutesy of Auburn Athletics

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