Golf

Three share individual title, North Florida crowned General Jim Hackler Championship team champ

It’s hard to tell if Zach Seabolt was overlooked by college golf recruiters coming out of Leesville Road High School in Raleigh, N.C., two years ago, or if he is a late bloomer.

Either way, he’s making a name for himself now.

Seabolt, a sophomore at Winthrop University, shot an even-par 72 Tuesday in the final round of the 14th General Jim Hackler Championship at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club to share individual medalist honors at 4-under 212 with two other players.

The win is Seabolt’s fourth of the 2014-15 season and fifth overall in his short college career.

“I had trouble closing out a win in junior golf and last year also,” Seabolt said. “I guess now I know that I can win and I’m good enough to win, so I don’t have the thoughts that I can’t.

“Especially this year it has come by surprise, but I’m not complaining. I just want to keep the momentum going.”

Matching Seabolt at 212 were Iowa State sophomore Nick Voke and North Florida senior Tony Petronio, who helped the Ospreys capture the team title at 3-under 861, which was 12 strokes better than runner-up North Carolina State. North Florida shot a 1-under 287 Tuesday, while the Wolfpack, the 36-hole leaders, shot a 302. Host Coastal Carolina finished eighth in the 15-team event.

Seabolt had few Division I opportunities out of high school. Charlotte and UNC Greensboro showed interest, but he chose the Big South Conference school in Rock Hill, saying he liked coach Kevin Pendley and the school’s rural setting. He has been instructed for the past five years by John Budwine, the pro at his home course Wildwood Green Golf Club in Raleigh.

“I’ve gotten a lot better, even since last year,” said Seabolt, who in high school played in the Charles Tilghman Junior at the Surf Golf and Beach Club. “It all came together I guess. The hard work finally paid off.”

Voke a New Zealand native, closed with a 72 to make the 7-under 65 he shot in the second round Monday afternoon hold up for an individual title. There was no playoff because of teams’ travel plans.

The 65 matched a tournament record and set The Dunes Club’s competitive course record from the approximate 7,200-yard back tees. The club opened in 1948.

“[A course record] is a first for me, so that’s pretty cool,” said Voke, whose record round included a tap-in eagle on the par-5 fourth hole as well as seven birdies, a bogey to start and three-putt bogey on his penultimate hole. “I hit a few close coming home and rolled in a few good putts and it adds up to 7 under.”

Voke had a good shot at the outright title. He was 2 under in his final round through 16 holes but bogeyed the par-3 17th hole after coming up short of the green and par-4 18th after a poor drive and missed 11-foot uphill par putt.

Petronio, of Orlando, Fla., played in the final threesome and was in and out of the lead on the final few holes. He birdied the par-5 15th, bogeyed the par-4 16th and birdied the par-3 17th with a chip-in from 35 feet, then was told by an assistant coach that he was tied for the lead. He made a par on the par-4 18th by getting up and down from a greenside bunker to earn a share of the win.

“It was kind of a roller coaster at the end,” Petronio said. “I was kind of disappointed to hit it in the bunker because I wanted to win outright, but it was a good bunker shot and good up-and-down, so I’ll take it.”

For the tournament, Petronio played The Dunes Club’s final four holes 7-under par with eight birdies.

The win is Petronio’s third in college, including one as a freshman and the Shoal Creek Intercollegiate in the fall. “I’m getting way more consistent, and even when I’m not playing my best I still have a chance to win sometimes, which is nice,” he said.

Petronio stepped into the Ospreys’ No. 1 spot less than two weeks ago after the dismissal from the team of senior MJ Maguire. “Good for [Petronio] and good for these guys because we’ve been dealing with some off-the-course stuff as a group, and they’ve stepped up and played really well,” said 10-year North Florida coach Scott Schroeder, whose team also won the Hackler in 2012 at DeBordieu Country Club.

The Ospreys were as low as 14 under as a team through 27 holes before giving back 12 shots to par on their final nine Monday.

“It was a very good performance,” Schroeder said. “It was really good to see how they bounced back from not finishing that round [Monday] very well. They played really solid today.”

North Florida has finished in the top 20 in the NCAA Championship in three of the past five years and was the top-ranked team in the tournament at No. 25 by Golfstat.com and No. 27 by Golfweek magazine. The Ospreys won a pair of events in the fall and are coming off a runner-up finish to Texas in their own tournament at Sawgrass Country Club. “Hopefully we’re building a little momentum and rolling into the end of the year,” Schroeder said.

CCU finished with a 26-over 890, and sophomore Alfredo Ruiz of Mexico was its best finisher with a tie for 21st at 5-over 72-74-75–221. Senior Andrew Dorn of Ohio, who shared Hackler medalist honors last year, tied for 32nd at 7 over.

The Chants’ 295 Tuesday was the fifth-best score of the day and no one in the starting five shot worse than a 75.

“It was a bounce back,” CCU coach Kevin McPherson said. “We actually played better today than we played [Monday] in easier conditions. All in all we had everybody in the game. It was nice to have everybody right there in contention and not have to count that 78 or 79.”

Competitors experienced a true taste of The Dunes Club this week as a few alligators between 8 and 12 feet long were sunning themselves both tournament days along the banks of Lake Singleton on the long par-5 13th hole.

Kent State junior Sebastian Bendsen of Denmark requested and was awarded free drops away from alligators for safety concerns both Monday and Tuesday.

“I’ve seen some before in Florida on spring break but that’s the first time I’ve been close with a golf ball in a tournament,” Bendsen said. “I didn’t want to get any closer.”

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