UTC men qualify for NCAA golf title tourney with third-place finish at Auburn Regional

UTC photo by Laura O'Dell / The UTC men's golf team finished third Wednesday at the Auburn Regional to reach the upcoming NCAA championship tournament. From left are assistant coach Nick Robinson, golfers Braedon Wear, Samuel Espinosa, Paul Conroy, Garrett Engle, John Houk and Alex Cobb and head coach Blaine Woodruff.

Blaine Woodruff always felt like he had something brewing with his first University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's golf team.

The Mocs had a successful regular season in 2022-23, one deemed worthy of a spot in the NCAA's Auburn Regional. Of course, with five nationally ranked teams in the field, the competition there was going to be considerably more difficult.

Yet Coach Woodruff's team believed, and now the Mocs are still dancing after a third-place finish in the regional, shooting a three-day score of 2-over-par 866 and finishing three strokes behind 13th-ranked Auburn and two behind top-ranked Vanderbilt. Those three teams along with 25th-ranked Ohio State (872) and 24th-ranked Colorado State (874) advance to the NCAA championship tournament that starts May 26 in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Tennessee, ranked 12th in the country, finished eighth in the regional at 889 and did not qualify.

Colorado State's Christoph Bleier and Ohio State's Maxwell Moldovan tied for medalist at 7-under 209, with Bleier closing with a par round of 72 and Moldovan shooting a 69 for the second straight day. Colorado State's Connor Jones was two strokes back in third.

For the Mocs, former McMinn Central standout John Houk tied for fourth at 212, while Paul Conroy shot a 69 on the final day and moved up five spots to tie for seventh at 214. Garrett Engle, Samuel Espinosa-Trueba and Braedon Wear also competed for UTC.

"All year long, I think things were just building, building," Woodruff said by phone Wednesday evening. "The guys continued to gain confidence, some belief as the year went on and kept on winning. It wasn't a one-man show or a two- or three-man show. It's all five; I think everybody's played almost every number for us, and it's been kind of interchangeable, so we don't really have a one guy, and we don't want to have a five guy. They're all one guys, and they all contribute -- they did this week.

"I'm proud of these guys. They worked really hard for this, and they've earned this right to get to a national championship and compete for a title, so I'm just really happy for them. I felt like we could do it, and as the year went on, it started feeling like they felt like they could do it, too, and to see it come to fruition as a coach is really cool."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com.