Sophomore Garrett Willis (Fort Wayne, Ind. / Homestead) became the first Valparaiso University men’s golfer to win medalist honors since 2017 on Tuesday, headlining a banner day for the program at the Zach Johnson Invitational, which was hosted by Drake at Glen Oaks Country Club in West Des Moines, Iowa. Freshman Caleb VanArragon (Blaine, Minn. / Blaine) finished tied for second, while the team grabbed the runner-up distinction in the 15-squad, 74-player field.
How It Happened
- Willis had his best score of the event with a 70 (-1) on Tuesday to finish with a victorious 54-hole score of 215 (+2). The sophomore edged out his teammate VanArragon and Loyola’s Nate Vance, who finished in a tie for the runner-up spot at 216 (+3).
- Willis had four birdies and carded par or better on 15 of the 18 holes on Tuesday.
- VanArragon posted a 72 during Tuesday’s final round to finish the tournament one stroke off the pace set by his teammate.
- Junior Drew Alexander (McCordsville, Ind. / Hamilton Southeastern) turned in a 73, by far his best round of the event. He tied for 34th with his three-round score of 231 (+18).
- Matthew McCarthy contributed a 72 (+1) on Tuesday.
- As a team, Valpo finished in second place for the second straight event, this time taking the runner-up distinction outright by fending off-host Drake (896, +44) by six strokes. Valpo was just two strokes behind tournament champion Loyola, which finished at 888 (+36) to top a 15-team field that saw Missouri Valley Conference squads take the top three spots.
Inside the Rounds
- Valpo had the best Par 4 performance of any competing team, finishing at 4.30 (+49) on those holes.
- The team produced 14 birdies on Tuesday to tie for the tournament lead with 38, joining South Dakota.
- Individually, Willis had 11 birdies for the three rounds to tie for the tournament lead.
- The last Valpo player to win a tournament was Peter Webb, who was the medalist of the Hoosier Invitational in 2017. Willis joins Webb, Zach Cutler (2014 CSU Cougar Classic), Kyle Henning (2012 John Dallio Memorial) and Thomas Wettstein (2013 Horizon League Championship) as the five Valpo players who have earned medalist honors since the program relaunched in 2009-10.
- Before this year’s Crusader Collegiate, Valpo didn’t have a team top-two finish in an event that featured more than four teams since winning the Wright State Invitational in 2015. Now, Valpo has finished as a tournament runner-up in consecutive events. Both tournaments have featured 15 teams, the largest field that Valpo has ever come away with a tournament title or runner-up performance.
Thoughts from Head Coach Dave Gring
“This was our most important round of the year since we had such a challenging finish to our 36 holes of play yesterday. We gave up a lot of ground to numerous teams, along with the lead for the day. The guys were really disappointed after the close of play yesterday, and they had a choice to either focus on the negatives or reset the clock and get after it today.”
“Our start was slow, especially with playing two of the Par 5s only two under par. We gave up even more ground to a portion of the field and we got to a point where we were +9 for the day. The momentum shifted pretty quickly as we were heading into the back nine, namely with Drew Alexander stringing together four consecutive birdies. Charlie added a birdie and Matt and Garrett added two birdies each, while we played the last nine holes at four under. We removed the nine-shot deficit to the leaders and had it tied with one hole remaining."
“While we just came up short for the second consecutive tournament, the guys really played with a lot of determination and confidence. It was fun to be on the course with them, erasing the deficit and watching them hit a lot of good shots, under some pretty good pressure. We weren't able to be in the same group as Loyola, so it was a little difficult to know what they were doing. We kept our focus on what we could control and it was a complete opposite and positive result from the end of the day yesterday.”
“In four tournaments this fall, Garrett has a medalist and runner-up individual finish for us. His ball-striking was exceptional today, hitting 10 out of 14 fairways and 15 out of 18 greens in regulation. His putting is about the best on the entire team and he's executing important shots when he needs them. Caleb piled on the pars all day today and was narrowly missing numerous birdie putts. He just missed a 20' putt on the last hole to be in a tie with Garrett. Both of these guys played with a lot of confidence this weekend and showed great leadership to our entire team.”
The final event of the fall campaign will take place in Jonesboro, Ark. as Arkansas State hosts the Bubba Barnett Intercollegiate beginning on Monday, Oct. 14 at Ridepointe Country Club.