Shiso Go’s dramatic up-and-down par on the 18th hole Sunday cemented East Tennessee State’s first victory in the 21-year history of the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate at Blackthorn Club.
“After 20 years of getting condolences, it’s nice to be getting congratulations,” said ETSU coach Fred Warren, whose team had finished second in this tournament three times. “To be honest, it’s joy, but it’s a lot of relief.”
ETSU has won 56 tournaments during Warren’s 33 years at the school.
The Bucs led wire to wire and wound up one stroke ahead of Louisville, which went out earlier and posted a score for the field to beat.
The Cardinals finished 31 under par and the Bucs were in the wave behind them, so they knew what they had to do down the stretch. It still almost got away.
ETSU’s lead was nine strokes at one point on the front nine but began to slip on the back. Several bogeys left the Bucs at 32 under and clinging to a one-stroke lead with only Go left on the course.
As word of the scores spread among the gallery assembled near the 18th green, just about everybody knew a routine par would do the trick.
It turned out to be anything but routine.
Even Go, who said he preferred not to know how things stood while he was playing, couldn’t ignore the team scores when his drive on the 18th hole came to rest in the shadow of a large scoreboard.
Knowing he needed a par, he hit probably his worst shot of the weekend. The ball headed toward the pond that fronts the right side of the green.
“My heart went into my throat,” Warren said.
So did everybody else’s.
When ETSU associate head coach Jake Amos walked across the green to see Go’s fate, he gave a signal that the ball was safe.
Somehow, it had not gone into the pond. Somehow, the Bucs still had a chance.
“I knew he’d get it up and down,” ETSU’s Jack Rhea said. “Shiso does that all the time.”
But this was not just any chip. The ball was 2 feet from the water, which was symbolic because there wasn’t room for Go’s two feet. He had to stand with his heels hanging over the edge of the pond, trying to keep his balance while keeping his head.
All he did was chip it up to within 2 feet of the hole. When he calmly sank the winning putt and pumped his fist, the burden lifted.
“The winning putt was the longest 2-foot putt I ever had,” Go said.
Go, a sophomore from Japan, finished at 14 under par after closing with a 71. That was second place individually, one shot behind Louisville’s Simon Zach, who closed with a 66.
Also for the Bucs, who posted a 3-under total in the final round, Geuntae Kim shot a 68 to finish 8 under, Trevor Hulbert shot 71 to finish 7 under and Rhea closed with a 73 and was 3 under.
Hulbert got off to a red-hot start, going 5 under through the first five holes to get the Bucs going in the right direction. A chip-in for eagle on the par-5 fourth hole was the highlight of his round.
Tennessee finished third, three shots behind ETSU, and Kent State was seven shots back in fourth. Vols coach Brennan Webb, who played for Warren at ETSU, was the first of many to congratulate the Bucs’ coach.
“We made it harder than it could have been,” Warren said. “On the other hand, it was a really good field and our guys did so many good things we were able to overcome getting in our own way a little bit.”