By: Chase Gardiner/GCU Staff
The third time was truly the charm.
Thanks to impressive performances from Jordan Yamamoto and Joey Russo, the Grand Canyon University Club Golf team made their third appearance at the National Collegiate Club Golf Association (NCCGA) National Championships their most historic one, convincingly claiming their very first national title. The Lopes outperformed the next closest opponent by a whopping 14 strokes at Norwood Hills Country Club in St. Louis, Missouri, overcoming a three-stroke deficit after the first day to shoot a collective 51-over par (751) for the team win. Yamamoto was the leader of the Sunday comeback, shooting a one-under 70 on the final day to come from five strokes down to win the individual title.
Before his team left for St. Louis last Friday, Lopes’ Head Coach John Wasson expressed his confidence in the abilities of his athletes, stating that he had every expectation that they could win the national title. Following their championship performance, he reiterated how proud he was to see his team succeed at such high levels.
“As a coach, it’s obviously very exciting to watch how the athletes and the program have grown,” Wasson explained. “Knowing the program and the quality of talent, I fully expected this to happen, and I was hopeful that it would happen this soon. It’s a very neat thing to watch them blossom the way they have.”
Despite his confidence in the talent of his athletes, Wasson knew that the real key to his team’s success this weekend was found somewhere else.
“The team took things more seriously this year, and they realized that this was more of a business trip rather than a vacation,” explained Wasson. “They came out really focused, and you could tell that they really wanted this one.”
Wasson wasn’t the only one to notice this important change in the team’s attitude. Yamamoto, a senior who has been with the team since 2015 and has appeared in four national tournaments, echoed his coach’s sentiment.
“We were defiantly more focused as a team this time around,” explained Yamamoto. “We had more rules going in, such as when to go to bed and stuff like that, so that we could make sure we were rested and prepared to succeed. We wanted to do whatever we could to be ready to compete.”
Whatever changes the Lopes instituted seemed to pay huge dividends as Yamamoto posted an impressive score of 146 (+6), which helped him claim the title of NCCGA Individual National Champion.
“With this being my last year with GCU Club Golf, it definitely meant a lot to me to win the national championship, because that has been something I have wanted to win ever since coming into the program,” explained Yamamoto. “Even more important to me though was to win as a team. While the individual victory is great, winning as a team is so much sweeter.”
Yamamoto went on to explain that although his performance was undoubtedly important to the team’s success, they would have never been able to succeed without a collective effort.
“We had all the pieces that we needed to win this year, especially in terms of depth. For example, we had Johnny Spinelli, who played really well in the first round and helped propel the team into the second round,” noted Yamamoto. “Not to mention we also have the best player in the country, Joey Russo, who also played incredible.”
While Yamamoto may have finished in first place, Russo gave him some incredibly close competition, finishing just one stroke behind in second place. According to Yamamoto, this type of friendly competition is a prime example of just how important his teammates were in helping prepare him for this moment.
“We definitely pushed each other the whole tournament,” said Yamamoto. “He and I have always been competitive by nature, and we’ve always practiced together in order to push each other and try to play to our potential. He’s an exceptional player, and he pushed me to be the best I can every time I’m out on the course.”
With their first national championship under their belts, the future looks bright for the Lopes, who are already looking forward for their next chance at a title.
“We’ve been playing really well since regionals, and this win kind of helped to take the monkey off our backs,” explained Wasson. “Because of the win, I think that there will be even less pressure on the team for next season. I think it’s really a positive for us going into next year. ”
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