(WSPA) – The sports team at WSPA has created a ‘Top 10 Moments in Clemson Athletics History’ countdown. Starting Tuesday, April 14 we will be revealing portions of the list daily on WSPA Channel 7 News and online at wspa.com leading up to the top moment in Tigers history. Be sure to follow along as we break down these monumental achievements featuring interviews with former Clemson Sports Information Director and longtime color analyst Tim Bourret, who’s still heard on their radio network and works with the Clemson sports department covering Tigers Golf.
#5: 2003 Men’s Golf National Title
The 2003 Clemson Men’s Golf team secured the program’s first national title, defeating #2 Oklahoma State by a slim margin. Head Coach Larry Penley was named National Coach of the Year, only the fourth coach (in any sport) in school history to be recognized with the honor. The team featured three All-Americans, including D.J. Trahan, who went on to earn his PGA Tour card.
The 2003 championship team didn’t come from nowhere. In fact, Clemson golf, along with Oklahoma State, was already considered one of the premier collegiate programs under Penley. The Tigers had been to 21 consecutive NCAA Tournaments, which was the second longest streak behind the Cowboys’ 57 in a row.
The Tigers returned the reigning Jack Nicklaus & Ben Hogan award-winner in Trahan, a senior. The All-American was presented with just about every award in college golf and represented the United States in international competitions. His future in the game seemed bright, but he wasn’t done with his days as a Tiger just yet. Trahan made it clear he was back for more.
“He kind of gave the impression it was ‘national championship or bust’,” said former Clemson Sports Information Director Tim Bourret. “Looking back it was good. It kind of reset the goals for the entire team going into the tournament.”
In 2001, Clemson finished as runner-up to Florida in the tournament, and in 2002 finished third. That national title had eluded the program for nearly a decade as the Tigers finished in the top 10 in each of the previous six seasons.
But the Tigers were ranked number one in preseason polls and maintained that status for the duration of the 2003 season.
The Clemson Tigers brought the number one seed into the NCAA Tournament, but a stark advantage would go to the number two team, Oklahoma State. The tournament was in Stillwater, Oklahoma at Karsten Creek Golf Club, the home of the Cowboys.
“When you think about it, the sport of golf probably could have the biggest home court, home field, home course advantage of any sport,” said Bourret. “It was quite a challenge.”
The Tigers had to be on their “A” game for the entire four rounds if they wanted to edge the host Cowboys.
Clemson tied for the best score in the opening round, shooting 11-over-par as a unit. Oklahoma State, NC State, and Auburn were right in step with the top-seeded Tigers.
Clemson remained relatively consistent in round two, finishing at +25 through two rounds, but couldn’t top Oklahoma State, who grabbed a one-stroke lead at +24. UCLA (+22) jumped into the mix and leapfrogged Clemson into the number two spot while NC State fell apart in the second round (+40 after two rounds).
Round three, however, was key for the Tigers. Clemson shot the only under-par round of the entire tournament (-1), putting them atop the leaderboard by a stroke heading into the final round.
That final round went right down to the wire.
Jack Ferguson, who had paced the Tigers throughout the tournament, was paired with Oklahoma State’s Hunter Mahan as they faced off on the final hole, a par five. Mahan needed an eagle coupled with a Ferguson par to force a playoff.
It appeared a playoff was in reach after Mahan reached the green in two, while Ferguson reached in three. But Mahan missed his eagle putt (he’d three putt) while Ferguson played it safe and secured par for the win.
A sense of relief combined with exuberance fell over the Tigers in Stillwater. They’d finally reached the pinnacle.
“That was quite an accomplishment,” said Bourret. “One of the great accomplishments in my 40 years at Clemson.”
Clemson won the tournament by two strokes (+39 to +41) becoming the first program in college golf to win a national title, conference title, and NCAA regional in the same year. They not only defeated a powerhouse program that won nine national championships under coach Mike Holder, but they did it on Oklahoma State’s home course. A top five achievement, indeed.
Clemson Top Ten List: