published Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Wiedmer: Chattanooga Mocs sophomore Davis Bunn ace golfer at great time

No one expects to hit a hole-in-one when he walks onto a golf course. Not Arnold Palmer. Not Tiger Woods. Not University of Tennessee at Chattanooga sophomore Davis Bunn.

Especially not last Saturday in the NCAA regional at the Club at Olde Stone in Bowling Green, Ky.

After all, Bunn had been so unimpressive during the spring semester that Mocs coach Mark Guhne didn't even take him to the Southern Conference tournament. In last Friday's second-round play, the Knoxville native regrettably underscored his coach's reluctance to play him, shooting an 83.

That thankfully got tossed, since a team counts only the top four scores among its five players in NCAA play.

But now it was the final round, the Mocs within a stroke or two of the lead and time running out as Bunn stood on Olde Stone's 16th tee attempting to shake off a double-bogey on the previous hole as he stared down the barrel of the par-3's 176-yard fairway.

"I went with the 8-iron," he said of his Ping i20 clubs.

Placing his Titleist Pro-V1 X ball on the tee -- "with the power 'C' [for Chattanooga] on the side," he noted -- Bunn took his usual swing, then watched the ball do a most unusual thing.

"It hit about 10 to 12 feet in front of the hole, then rolled in," he said. "To finally see one go in -- I'd never hit a hole-in-one before. It was almost a dream."

It was a dream come true for Guhne and the rest of the Mocs. Steven Fox drained a birdie at almost the exact moment Bunn fired his ace. Two holes back, the ace of the UTC team, Stephan Jaeger was about to birdie, while Chris Robb soon birdied No. 15. Liam Johnston stayed steady.

In less than 20 minutes the Mocs were 5 under par on five separate holes. After playing the front side in even par as a team, UTC would finish minus-4 on the back.

And that was good enough to win the regional.

We repeat: Win ... the ... regional. Little ol' UTC. Regional champ heading into next week's NCAA championship tournament at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles.

"Everybody on this team had a hole on Saturday that we had to have to win," Guhne said Tuesday. "Take away any of them and we probably aren't talking about this. But Davis's hole-in-one got everybody excited. We started making birdies after that. And that's how it usually is. Somebody usually has to do something special if you're going to have a great day."

It was one of the best days in UTC athletic history. No, it didn't carry the emotional drama of the Mocs' 1997 Sweet 16 run in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Or the 1977 basketball Mocs' Division II national championship. Or the 1958 football team's stunning upset of Tennessee in Neyland Stadium.

But there are only six regional champions heading to Riviera among the 34 teams that qualified, and the Mocs are one of them.

Beyond that are all the grand national programs left behind.

"Georgia Tech's been a top 10 or 11 program all year, and they're at home," Guhne said. "Arkansas is a top 11 program; they're home. Clemson's a top 20 program; they're home. Your whole season rides on those three days, and we delivered."

There are two sides to every story. Remember, Bunn didn't go to the Southern Conference tournament. Benni Weilguni -- runner-up at the Carpet Capital in the fall -- did.

But the native of Austria was struggling so much with his swing that he told Guhne after the SoCon tourney, "I know I've still got a great round in me, but I don't know if I'm going to shoot a 60 or a 90."

Said Guhne: "I had never made a change like this before, unless somebody got hurt. But I knew you had to drive the fairway on this course, and that's one thing Davis has done well all year."

So comfortable was Weilguni with the decision that before Guhne could break the news to him, the player said, "It's OK, Coach. I knew this talk was coming."

What came immediately after Bunn's ace will be talked about for years to come. Back at the Fox Den Country Club in Knoxville -- the family's home course -- Davis's father David soon began receiving texts that his "Lunch Bunch" golfing buddies had opened a bar tab on his account.

After pulling the ball from the cup, Davis quickly handed it to his mother Joan with instructions to "keep it in a safe place."

Mom and Dad soon purchased a framed photograph of the 16th hole from the pro shop.

Yet there were also two holes left to play, the Mocs still a long way from a regional crown.

"I was afraid I might get a penalty for slow play," said Bunn, recalling the scene at the 17th tee. "UCLA's Pontus Widegren finally said, 'I don't want to step in front of an ace, but do you mind if I go?' That helped."

Still, Bunn bogeyed 17. But then he birdied 18. And Jaeger birdied the last two holes to clinch the region crown.

Said the Mocs' unlikely hero: "It's hard to put into words what a hole-in-one does for a golf team."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6273.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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