Sargent ties for 11th at NCAA Championships

Redshirt senior men’s golfer Billy Tom Sargent takes a swing during the final round of the NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas on May 28, 2019.

Drake Kizer

Billy Tom Sargent became the first WKU men’s golfer in history to play in the NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championships this week, and the redshirt senior seemed comfortable in the spotlight. Sargent tied for 11th place in a field that originally featured 156 golfers at Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Sargent earned the lone individual berth out of the Athens (Georgia) Regional on May 15, defeating Nevada’s Stephen Osborne on the third playoff hole. Sargent joined a field slated to participate in three days of stroke play on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The top 15 teams and nine individuals not on an advancing team would then be determined, followed by a final day of 18 holes of stroke play to determine the top eight teams that would advance to match play as well as the 72-hole individual champion.

“I just want to represent the school,” Sargent said in a press release. “The golf team here is growing, and it continues to grow, and it has a really bright future. It’s just kind of putting Western on the map a little bit more and taking it to nationals and just play the best I can.”

Sargent kicked off the NCAA Championships with a bang Friday, as the WKU golfer was tied for the lead during a large portion of the morning session. Sargent finished his opening round tied for sixth following a 1-under 71 performance, which was just four shots off the lead at that point.

After posting the best round by a Conference USA player in the NCAA Championships since 2016 on Friday, Sargent stumbled Saturday afternoon. The redshirt senior had a 7-over 43 on the front nine, including two double-bogeys and a triple bogey, but Sargent rebounded by piecing together three birdies with six pars on the back nine to finish with a 4-over 76 and a two-day total of 147 (71-76).

Sargent finished Saturday tied for 33rd at 3 over, but the WKU golfer was just one stroke out of the top 25, two shots out of the top 15 and three shots out of ninth place, which made advancing still seem viable.

“It gave me a lot of momentum going into [Sunday],” Sargent said in a press release. “I feel really good about the course and how I’m hitting the ball. I just need to be a little more sharp in my swing and mentally.”

The WKU golfer dug down deep, shooting an even-par 72 in Sunday’s third round. With that score, Sargent made the cut to Monday’s final round of stroke play. Sargent finished Sunday tied for 19th in the 156-player field with a 3-over total of 219 over three days at the par-72, 7,550-yard course.

“Today I just wanted to play solid and try not to force anything,” Sargent said in a press release. “After seeing the course three times, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do on each hole. I had a little bit of a rough start, but I knew there was a lot of golf to play and I wouldn’t have to go super low to make it to the last day. I’m really excited to be able to play tomorrow and represent WKU some more.”

Just three shots outside the top 10, Sargent teed off Monday afternoon for his final round of NCAA Championships action. He capped off his unprecedented run in style, shooting an even-par 72 in the final round of the NCAA Championships. Sargent finished with a four-round, 3-over-par total of 291 — two shots away from a top-eight result. Oklahoma State’s Matthew Wolff won the individual title at 10 under.

“It feels good,” Sargent said in a press release. “I just wanted to come out here and play solid, stick to my game plan and just have fun today. Yesterday, there was a little more tension trying to make the cut. Today, I just felt free out there.”

Sargent finished the tournament with 15 total birdies and tied for ninth in the entire tournament field in par-4 scoring at 5 over. Following his third round of par or better at the event, Sargent was honored in an awards ceremony as a top-15 national finalist.

“What a great week,” WKU head coach Chan Metts said in a press release. “It was an awesome finish to get a top 15 in the national championship. Making the cut was obviously the first goal, and then to come out and play like we did today and climb the leaderboard a little bit, I couldn’t be more proud of him. I can’t say enough good things about Billy Tom and the leadership that he’s provided to this program this year, and throughout his whole career.”

Sargent’s performance was historic in many ways — the WKU golfer outpaced 61 of the 72 top-100 players in the field, including 15 in the top 25. He was also featured on the Golf Channel multiple times, including a live post-round interview where Sargent paid homage to former WKU men’s golf coach Phillip Hatchett, who was killed after being struck by a car while riding his bike last June.

“I love it,” Sargent said in a press release. “The Red Towel, getting it on Golf Channel as much as possible. Just getting exposure for the school. The golf team the next few years is up and coming. They’re going to be really good, and a lot of people are going to know who the Hilltoppers are.”

The fifth-year senior was also named to the Division I PING All-Region Midwest Team by the Golf Coaches Association of America for the second straight season Saturday. Although Sargent’s time as a Hilltopper came to an end following his stellar performance at the NCAA Championships, Metts said Sargent and all of his fellow men’s golf seniors made their final seasons on the Hill count.

“I can’t say enough good things about him this season,” Metts said in a press release. “I have said it over and over, him and actually Stuart (Easton) and Blake (Smith) – our other seniors that we are losing this year – those guys have been unbelievable leaders. Anybody that is around those three guys for more than a couple of minutes, it is impossible not to pull for them. Billy Tom is certainly no different. He’s been an unbelievable leader this year. He’s set such a great example day in and day out, whether it’s on the golf course or in the gym. He’s that kind of guy you want leading your team.”

Sports Editor Drake Kizer can be reached at 270-745-2653 and [email protected]. Follow Drake on Twitter at @drakekizer_.