On a warm September afternoon, Augusta State's golfers donned ties, dress shirts, long pants and blue blazers as they stepped foot on the South Lawn of the White House.
There, they munched cookies and sipped lemonade. Later, they shook hands with President Obama. The Washington, D.C., visit capped a months-long celebration that included a small parade in downtown Augusta and a large banquet with more than 1,000 people on the floor of the school's basketball arena.
The spoils of winning the NCAA Division I golf championship, the school's first national title in an NCAA sport, lasted through the final six months of 2010.
"It was just a dream year," Jaguar golfer Carter Newman said.
Augusta State fulfilled its dream in June in Ooltewah, Tenn. Now the scene shifts to Oklahoma. The Jaguars open play Tuesday in the NCAA Division I Championship at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater. Eighth-ranked Augusta State will attempt to become the fifth different school since 1950 to defend its national title.
The Jaguars enter with designs on winning the stroke-play portion on Oklahoma State's home course. Still, the ultimate goal for Augusta State is to finish as one of the top eight teams in stroke play and qualify for match play, which begins Friday.
In 10 tournaments this season, the Jaguars finished in the top three seven times. Augusta State won once and finished as runner-up four times, including a second-place showing at the NCAA Southeast Regional.
"I feel good about it," Jaguars coach Josh Gregory said. "Even when we've been off, we've been right there in contention. That gives us hope and confidence that we should be comfortable."
The five players in Augusta State's starting lineup will compete in their final collegiate event. Olle Bengtsson, Mitch Krywulcyz, Henrik Norlander and Newman all graduated earlier this month. Patrick Reed, a junior, earlier announced his intentions to turn professional later this year.
Last year, Reed, Krywulycz, Newman and Norlander, along with Taylor Floyd, played in their first national final together. They were solid in stroke play, finishing sixth. In match play, every golfer became a hero as Augusta State knocked off the top three seeds in succession -- No. 3 Georgia Tech in the quarterfinals, No. 2 Florida State in the semifinals and No. 1 Oklahoma State in the finals.
"Because we got over the hump and won one, it gives us confidence that we can win again," Reed said. "And having five guys that aren't coming back, it allows us to be more determined.
"We're going to be able to show our full potential because we're going to be more relaxed, having a good time."
During the regular season, the Jaguars tied for fourth at the PING/Golfweek Preview at Karsten Creek in the fall, grabbing a sneak peek of the Cowboys' home course. Augusta State got off to a rough opening round with 16-over 304, but it rebounded the final two rounds to tie for fourth.
"We kind of figured out the course and played better the second and third day," Gregory said. "It's such a hard course that it's hard to figure it out on Day 1."
Gregory said playing in the Preview, and getting three tournament rounds and a practice round in at 7,400-yard Karsten Creek, is an advantage. Of the 30 teams in the NCAA Championship field, 21 will see the course for the first time this week.
"Only getting one practice round in is going to be tough for a lot of teams that haven't see the course," Gregory said. "This course will eliminate half the teams from the moment they arrive, because it is that demanding. There's no way you can fake it around that course. You're going to have to have your game."
Back in the game
Augusta State got its game back in order after plodding through its home tournament in April. Coming off a win and a runner-up showing in its two previous events, the Jaguars entered their home tournament with a false sense of confidence.
Playing host to arguably the most elite field in their home event, the Jaguars fell flat and tied for sixth.
Augusta State's 'B' squad, whose finish didn't officially count, bested the main squad by six shots.
"We've learned from our mistake," Reed said. "I felt like it just made us more motivated. It made us practice a little harder. Because of that, it got our game to where it needs to be."
"It's never really that much fun to play your home event, because you're expected to win," Newman said. "You don't really have a lot to gain. If you win, everybody says you were supposed to win. But if you lose, everybody asks what happened?"
The tournament also proved to be a turning point for Bengtsson, who closed with a pair of 67s to finish second behind Oklahoma State's Kevin Tway. Bengtsson, a backup most of his career, later went out and won the qualifier for the fifth spot on the traveling squad. After watching Augusta State win a national championship last year, he will now try to help the school bring home its second title.
"I haven't really had the college career that I wanted or expected," he said. "Winning a national championship would make up for a lot of missed events and bad playing, I guess. Watching last year and being a part of it was amazing. But to actually play and contribute in the national championship, I couldn't ask for anything more."
Now, the No. 1 question in college golf will be on the forefront this week: Can Augusta State repeat? The Jaguars sport two of the nation's top players in Reed and Norlander. Plus, Krywulycz and Newman are seasoned veterans. And Gregory is high on the addition of Bengtsson.
Can Augusta State become the first team to win consecutive national titles since Houston in 1984-85?
"Why not us?" Gregory asked. "Somebody's got to do it. Somebody's got to break the streak.
"I don't know if winning the second could ever be the same as the first, but I'd sure like to find out."