ALEXANDER CITY, Ala. (WSFA) - A team made up exclusively of athletes from Alabama won the NJCAA Golf National Championship back on May 17 at the Duran Golf Glub in Melbourne, Florida.
The Central Alabama Community College Trojans won their seventh national championship overall and second under head coach Dave Jennings.
CACC entered the tournament ranked fifth, and Jennings said he knew his team was going to have to play their best golf of the year to even be competitive.
“At nationals this year, it was bizarre to realize that we were five Alabama boys against the world,” Jennings said.
Those Alabama boys ended up being much more than just competitive. The team displayed total dominance, winning the championship by 13 strokes.
Trailing top ranked Indian Hills Community College by 12 strokes after two rounds, Jennings knew his team needed a little extra inspiration for the third round.
Strangely enough, Jennings found that inspiration in the form of Harry Potter stress ball key chains from Walmart.
Before the team boarded the van for the third round, Jennings had each player draw a key chain and attach it to their golf bag.
“I instructed them to squeeze that ball each time they hit a very good shot or had a good hole and think to themselves, ‘That’s for the team,’" Jennings added. "If they hit a bad shot, they were to squeeze the ball and think, ‘I’m going to grind this out and make the best score possible for the team.’”
The Harry Potter charms may have been just what the team needed. Jennings said he saw a lot of stress ball squeezes over the final two days, and his team moved up the leaderboard from fifth to second place with a 15-under-par after day 3.
Jennings said he felt good about his team’s chances when he went to talk to his sophomore leader Jack Poole after the 12th hole during the last round. Poole had been leading the individual competition after three rounds, but no longer held the lead on the last day.
Poole told Jennings, “Coach, I’m not concerned in how I finish in the tournament. I just want our team to win.”
Poole finished second in the individual competition at 13-under-par.
Millbrook native Owen Burt finished third in the individual competition with a 10-under-par.
Behind the low scores of Poole and Burt, Central Alabama’s strong team performance on the fourth and final day of competition was enough to complete the comeback and win the championship.
The team finished with an impressive total score of 36-under-par, 13 strokes ahead of Indians Hills, who finished in second place.
Central Alabama’s seven championships are the most by any NJCAA Division-I program since junior colleges split into divisions in 1990.
Jennings played for the Trojans himself in the ’70s and said Central Alabama Community College has a longtime reputation of being a college golf powerhouse. They have been able to maintain success because of two main factors: recruiting and access to the high-level golf facilities around Alabama. He also has a good record of getting his players to the next level.
According to Jennings, more than 80 percent of the players he has coached at CACC go on to play golf at a four-year institution, and 92 percent of his players achieve at least a bachelor’s degree.
On this year’s championship team, Poole and fellow sophomore Caleb O’Toole received a golf scholarship to Western Kentucky University, and Burt will continue his golf career at Huntingdon College. Sophomore Reed Love will attend the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the fall, and freshman Dylan Moncus already has some looks from university coaches according to Jennings.
After serving as a golf professional, player, club pro and instructor for 22 years, Jennings came back to Alex City in 2001 to help reinstate the golf program at CACC. After helping lead hundreds of golfers to academic, athletic and personal success, receiving dozens of awards and winning two national championships, he called it the best decision of his life.
“For all the years before 2001, I was focused on how I could climb the ladder and improve my lifestyle. That was all well and fine, but not until I began to really help younger people with golf, academics and life did I truly start feeling fulfilled. I’m blessed," Jennings said.