AIKEN — Clemson’s golf team has accomplished much during Larry Penley’s tenure.
The Tigers have won an NCAA Championship and turned out plenty of PGA Tour winners.
Until Tuesday, Clemson had never won the Cleveland Golf Palmetto Intercollegiate in its previous attempts at Palmetto Golf Club. But thanks to a strong closing kick, the Tigers nipped Atlantic Coast Conference rival Virginia by one shot to take the title in the 15th annual event.
“We had a real good back nine. We were struggling early, but to our guys’ credit, we played the back nine good,” Penley said. “Everyone was at least 2-under. I think we wound up shooting 8- or 9-under on the back (as a team).”
Virginia’s Ben Kohles won the individual title for the second time in three years. He shot 1-under-par 69 to finish the 54-hole tournament at 2-under 208 at the 6,617-yard Palmetto layout.
“It’s disappointing to miss by one shot,” said Kohles, a two-time ACC Player of the Year. “You think of four scores over three days and it all comes down to one shot. I’m sure everyone can say there was one decision that could have saved a shot, but that’s golf.”
Virginia and South Carolina were tied after the completion of 36 holes Monday, and Clemson was just one back. But instead of a showdown between the Palmetto State rivals, Virginia seized the lead after nine holes.
Clemson counted scores from Crawford Reeves (70), McCuen Elmore (70), Thomas Bradshaw (71) and Billy Kennerly (72) for a 283 total and combined score of 854. The Cavaliers tallied 285 to finish at 855, and the Gamecocks fell to 293 and third at 863.
Augusta State shot 293 on Tuesday to finish seventh (874), and host USC Aiken came in at 306 to tie for 12th (896) in the 18-team field.
Penley said Reeves, Bradshaw and Kennerly all birdied Palmetto’s closing hole, a short par-4, to seal the victory.
Reeves was the final Clemson player to complete his round, and he drove just short of the green and pitched close. When he made his birdie putt, the small group of Clemson players and fans broke into applause.
That Penley’s team won without counting the score of Corbin Mills, who will play in April’s Masters Tournament, was impressive.
Mills won the U.S. Public Links Amateur last summer to earn his trip to Augusta National Golf Club. He shot 73 on Tuesday and finished the tournament tied for 21st at 8-over 218.
“If we can get Mills through Augusta … we’re just not going to see his best golf until that tournament’s over with,” Penley said. “I’m not criticizing him. There’s no way to eliminate it from your brain. It’s just there. So I’ll be glad when it’s over.”
Penley will be on hand to see Mills play in his first Masters alongside former Clemson golfers Jonathan Byrd, Lucas Glover and Kyle Stanley.
“Absolutely,” Penley said.