When Augusta State arrived at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tenn., Josh Gregory decided to shuffle his lineup. In four of their previous five tournaments, the Jaguars opened over par (295 or worse). In the NCAA Division I Golf Championships, Augusta State could not afford another slow start.
In his eighth season, Gregory relied on his experience. He flipped his lineup, sending his two best players -- Henrik Norlander and Patrick Reed -- off first. Usually, those two would tee off last.
Gregory, a native Tennesseean who grew up in Memphis, was familiar with the golf course and knew that his team needed to post some low scores early. Fourteen years before, he had played the course in the national championships for Southern Methodist University. Gregory finished tied for 60th place, 27 shots behind medalist Tiger Woods.
"I figure we can't get any worse in the first round," Gregory said. "I don't know if it'll make a bit of difference, but it'll at least make me feel better that we're trying something."
Gregory's instincts paid off. Augusta State started on the 10th hole and turned at 3-over. Then, the Jaguars began their charge.
Gregory walked with Norlander, watching him birdie three holes on the front side. Taylor Floyd started the front nine with a birdie and eagle at Nos. 1 and 2. Mitch Krywulycz birdied three holes on the front.
Augusta State finished the first round at 1-under-par 287 and tied for seventh place among 30 teams.
"The plan paid off," Gregory said. "All you want to do the first day is get yourself in position to win."
Gregory finally found himself with a well-balanced team talented enough to win a national title -- something he talked about doing when he was hired to lead the Jaguars in 2002.
After graduating from SMU in 1997, Gregory played the mini tours before hanging up his golf cleats. In 2000, he took a job as an assistant at N.C. State, where his men's team twice advanced to the NCAA Championships.
"I knew in the back of my mind the only thing I wanted to do was coach," Gregory said.
He got his big break when Augusta State needed to replace Jay Seawell, who left for Alabama. The 27-year-old Gregory entered an Augusta State program filled with great players. With future Ryder Cup player Oliver Wilson on his inaugural squad, Gregory's team won six events, climbed as high as No. 2 in the national rankings and finished seventh in the NCAA Championships.
Two years later, the Jaguars won four events and finished 10th in the nationals. Success came at a rapid pace for a young coach.
"I remember taking it for granted, thinking it was easy," Gregory said. "I was dealt a good hand."
After the 2004-05 season, Augusta State did not win a tournament for almost four years. In that span, the Jaguars made one NCAA Championships appearance -- and they weren't a factor.
In that barren stretch, Gregory found contentment off the course with his marriage to Ashley Hardy in 2006. During that time, he narrowed his recruiting philosophy -- he wanted to find quality players, quality people (especially in Georgia) who had been overlooked by other colleges.
"I may take a chance on a kid's golfing ability," he said. "But I'm not going to take a chance on his character and his ability in the classroom."
He found what he was looking for when he brought in Krywulycz and Carter Newman. The following year, he added Norlander. In 2008, Floyd entered the program. Then, last year, Reed transferred to Augusta State.
All of a sudden, he fielded a team loaded with smart golfers on and off the course, players with talent and heart -- as he would soon find out.
In the regular season, the Jaguars won three events during a seven-tournament stretch in which they finished fifth or better.
In the Southwest Regional, the team faced its direst situation. After shooting 303 in the first round, the Jaguars stood in ninth place, but only the top five teams qualified for nationals. With its back against the wall, Augusta State shot the low second round of the event and eventually finished as runner-up.
Ranked No. 5 in the nation, the Jaguars arrived in Tennessee with thoughts of winning a national championship -- if they could get to match play. The top eight teams after three rounds of medal play advanced to the format introduced in 2009.
As the week wore on, Gregory said he saw little things starting to happen.
"Something about this adds up," he said. "We weren't playing our best, but we were right there. I started thinking maybe this was our week."
Augusta State featured the star-studded duo of Norlander and Reed, two of the nation's top players. Combined, they had 13 top-10 finishes throughout the season. Combined, they gave the Jaguars a chance to go toe-to-toe with any team in the country.
"They're the best one-two punch in the country," Gregory said. "When they're on their game, they can beat anybody.
"If both of them play well, we can beat anybody."