SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (MSU Athletics/WTVA) - Mississippi State men’s golf coach Dusty Smith had guided his team to eight top-5 finishes over two seasons coming into the weekend.
With three top-10 individual performances at the Desert Mountain Intercollegiate, the Golf Dawgs clinched Smith’s first tournament title as a head coach Sunday, also the program’s first win since the 2014 Reunion Intercollegiate.
“This is a special day for our entire team,” Smith said. “We got smacked in the mouth early in the round, but we were able to gather ourselves and come back swinging. Winning is hard. It takes a lot of mental toughness, and I felt like our team did a great job handling adversity.”
State also swept the team and individual titles at the par-72, 7,101-yard Desert Mountain Outlaw Course as junior Garrett Johnson finished as the individual medalist, carding a 9-under-207.
“Garrett was great today,” Smith said. “He battled all day. I am so happy to see him get a much-deserved individual win.”
“I am excited to finally get the monkey off my back,” Johnson said. “Getting my first collegiate win is a huge accomplishment. It was one of my many goals before going into college, and this week I pulled everything together and got the job done.”
Johnson needed a birdie on the 18th hole to avoid a tie with Kansas’ Harry Hillier, and he was able to sink the par-4 in just three shots.
“It was an unreal moment, one that I will remember forever,” Johnson said.
The win is Johnson’s first career victory, the first of any active MSU golfer and the first since Taylor Bibbs clinched the USA Individual in 2017.
On his way to the win, Johnson shot a career-low 66 in the opening round on Saturday. The Kimberly, Alabama, native shot even in round two and a 69 in the final round to win by one stroke.
With the win, Johnson was one of three Bulldog golfers to finish in the top 10 on the player leaderboard. Freshman Ford Clegg had a career-best finish as he tied for third at 5-under-par, while junior Peng Pichaikool picked up his fifth consecutive top-15 performance placing tied for eighth.
In each of its last three events, State has placed three players in the top 20 of the player leaderboards, and Clegg and Pichaikool have been part of all three instances.
Senior Ross Bell finished just short of the top 20, with a 6-over-par three-day total to take a share of 22nd. Bell shot a 73 and 72 in the first two rounds of play Saturday.
Sophomore Cameron Clarke rounded out the MSU scorecard, finishing 65th. Ben Nelson, playing as an individual, tied for 49th.
The sweep of team and individual is the first since the 2014 Old Waverly Collegiate Championship.
As a team, State struggled in its final round relative to Saturday. MSU shot 9-over-par Sunday but was helped along by its 17-under-par total after two rounds. Overall, the Golf Dawgs carded an 8-under-856, six strokes ahead of runner-up Kansas.
Smith’s team led the field with 66 birdies over the three days, 12 more than any other team. Johnson finished with a field-best 19.
MSU’s next test is less than a week away. On Friday, March 15, State will begin play at the Schenkel Invitational hoping to improve on last season’s fourth-place finish.
For more information on the Bulldogs, follow the program on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram by searching @HailStateMG.
MSU men’s golf coach Dusty Smith:
“This is a special day for our entire team. We got smacked in the mouth early in the round, but we were able to gather ourselves and come back swinging. Winning is hard. It takes a lot of mental toughness, and I felt like our team did a great job handling adversity. Garrett was great today. He battled all day. I am so happy to see him get a much-deserved individual win. We have a quick turnaround. We will enjoy this one tonight but need to get back at it this week.”
Junior Garrett Johnson:
“I am excited to finally get the monkey off my back. Getting my first collegiate win is a huge accomplishment. It was one of my many goals before going into college, and this week I pulled everything together and got the job done. I got off to a tough start, but I knew if I could get to the back nine at even par or better I would have a good chance. The back nine set up so well for me. Standing on 18, I was calm. I knew my moment had come, and it was time to tackle it. I swung as hard as I could at the drive on 18. It found the middle of the fairway, and I was able to hit my approach shot up to about 15 feet. I had coach Ewing standing there with me, and I told him “It’s time to make a putt.” Once we got done discussing the line, we chose I stood over the ball with no doubt it was going in. When it dropped, Coach Ewing came and gave me the biggest high-five and hug. It was an unreal moment, one that I will remember forever. The best part about the whole entire week is winning as team. That means more to me than the individual accomplishment. Hail State forever!