It didn’t take long for Wells Padgett to figure out that this year’s Auburn golf team could be one of the best in the country. With his team coming off three straight top-five finishes to start the season, the freshman knew his team had bigger and better things in store.
“If we play to our full potential, there’s no team in the country that can beat us. We know that,” Padgett said in October.
Padgett “oozes confidence” according to head coach Nick Clinard. But the Wichita, Kansas, native let his putter do the talking Sunday as he buried a 20-foot putt on the final hole of regulation to defeat Alabama’s Jonathan Hardee 1-up and clinch Auburn’s first SEC title since 2002.
“I had a 15-20 footer, straight downhill, breaking a lot right to left,” Padgett said. “I hit the putt and I’m just like wow that looks good. I started walking it in just about five feet before it goes in, and once it falls I just go berserk, go to the team, and we’re all just having the time of our lives.”
Padgett had been in the anchor position all week during match play, and Clinard never had any doubts about putting a freshman in that spot.
“He’s just got high self-belief, coach Maggard and I trust him,” Clinard said. “We knew that he could go out and get a point for us if we needed it.”
Brandon Mancheno earned Auburn’s first point of the match as the freshman lefthander defeated Wilson Furr 2&1. Mancheno had a 2-up lead at the turn and extended his lead with a birdie at the par-4 11th.
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Furr got one back with a birdie at the 12thand won the 14thto get back to 1-down, but Mancheno immediately regained a 2-up lead after Furr bogeyed the par-5 15thand the Jacksonville, Florida native earned halves at 16 and 17 to end the match.
After his dramatic victory in extra holes helped clinch Auburn’s spot in Sunday’s final match, Trace Crowe picked up right where he left off against Davis Riley. The junior won the opening hole with a birdie and never looked back as Crowe never trailed in a 2&1 victory.
The win continues Crowe’s run of good form in recent weeks. The Bluffton, South Carolina native shot a program-record 63 at the Gary Koch Invitational earlier this month and his 16-under total was enough for a one-shot win over Kentucky’s Chip McDaniel.
“It was a great week, even in stroke play we all played well,” Crowe said. “I feel like I played really solid the whole week. And when it got to match play, the matches really rise in intensity and I thought we all elevated our games when it mattered.”
With SEC teams occupying 10 of the top 25 and seven of the top 15 spots in the Golfweek rankings, this week’s win gives Crowe and the Tigers plenty of confidence moving forward.
“We just won the SEC Championship which is without a doubt the best teams we’re going to play other than three or four other schools,” Crowe said. “So if we go to Nationals and play the way we did this week, we’ll have a good chance.”
The win gives Auburn an automatic berth into the NCAA Regionals May 14-16. It will be the Tigers’ seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, but Crowe believes that the overall cohesiveness and self-belief sets this year’s team apart.
“Everybody just really gets along with each other,” Crowe said. “Everybody pushes each other day in and day out. This whole week we all believed we were going to have a chance to win. Even coming down the stretch and we believed that we were going to win.”
Auburn’s first SEC title in 16 years is a great start to the postseason, but Clinard knows his team needs to keep grinding if they hope to win the first National Championship in school history.
“It just gets bigger. I told the guys we need to regroup, we’re going to enjoy this win, but we’ve got a lot to do,” Clinard said. “We need to get better. We’re going to go try and win a regional championship.”
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