It was more than two months in the pipeline, but Augusta State's golf team finally celebrated in a big way Thursday night.
About 1,100 people, including several dignitaries, packed the floor of Christenberry Fieldhouse to honor the NCAA Division I national champion Jaguars. The team's title trophy sat alone under a bright light at the front of the room, reminding everyone of the team's accomplishment.
"Tonight's just special," Augusta State junior Patrick Reed said. "It just shows how much support we have from the community. To be able to have that trophy over on that table, it looks great."
Jaguar golfers Reed, Henrik Norlander, Carter Newman, Taylor Floyd and Mitch Krywulycz, along with head coach Josh Gregory, received their due in a historic celebration. At the Augusta State Birdie Club banquet, the team soaked in the spoils of victory for bringing home the school's first NCAA championship in early June.
"I'm pretty awestruck," Gregory said. "A national championship doesn't come along very often. This is the culmination of an unbelievable dream come true.
"To be able to share this with so many people, it's hard to put into words."
In the first week of June in Ooltewah, Tenn., Augusta State was one of eight teams to advance out of the medal play portion of the NCAA Division I Championships at The Honors Course. In match play, the Jaguars defeated No. 3 seed Georgia Tech, No. 2 seed Florida State and No. 1 seed Oklahoma State on consecutive days, recording a moment the large crowd relived again.
"It brings back so many of the good emotions we had in Ooltewah," Newman said. "It's a big deal, not only to us, but to a lot of people."
Augusta State waited to hold a celebration because all of its players were busy playing amateur tournaments this summer. With school back in session, Thursday proved to be the perfect evening. Carter and Reed are flying out today to Washington for next week's U.S. Amateur championship.
During the banquet, Gregory recognized the former head coaches who helped build the program along with former longtime assistant Henry Thomas, who received a national championship ring. Gregory also thanked the school's former players, several of them in attendance.
The honors began in full when Georgia Rep. Ben Harbin presented a proclamation from Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue honoring the golf team. Augusta commissioner Don Grantham then presented a proclamation from Mayor Deke Copenhaver.
Later, Reed gave Georgia Sports Hall of Fame executive director Ben Sapp his TaylorMade Maranello putter for the museum's permanent display. With the club, Reed drained the clutch 15-foot birdie putt at No. 18 to defeat Georgia Tech's Chesson Hadley, 1-up, and help the Jaguars advance to the match play semifinals.
Midway through the program, former Augusta State All-American Vaughn Taylor, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour and 2006 U.S. Ryder Cup team member, helped honor the team.
"It's unbelievable," Taylor said. "It's hard to believe they've come so far. It's awesome."
To a standing ovation, Gregory received the Golf Coaches Association of America Division I coach of the year award.
Then, a highlight video started, beginning with a 27-year-old Gregory taking the Augusta State job in 2002. Then, the NCAA highlights played along with the team's homecoming that June 6 evening.
A surprise video from Arnold Palmer played, with The King feting the team.
"You've had a tough road facing down the top three teams in the NCAA tournament," said Palmer, the legendary four-time Masters Tournament champion. "We would really like to salute you on a job well done."
Following the ring ceremony, the team received a letter from Masters Tournament and Augusta National Golf Club chairman Billy Payne, who invited Gregory and his players to a special luncheon and a round of golf in the fall when the club reopens.
Finally, Jake Amos, a senior on last year's team, unveiled the title banner hanging from the rafters.
While the celebration honored the achievements of the 2009-10 team, there's little reason to believe this cannot happen again.
All five starters from the national championship, along with Gregory, return to defend their title, with the first fall tournament starting next month.