When UT Tyler coach King Campbell and his national championship golf team arrived back on campus Saturday, Dr. Rodney Mabry, UT Tyler president, first congratulated Campbell and his Patriots then said, “You can’t leave King.”
Campbell got the perfect retirement present as his golfers presented him with a national title after capturing the NCAA Division III National Golf Tournament on Friday in Destin, Fla.
His women’s team came through as well, finishing as national runners-up plus freshman Laura Lindsey won women’s individual medalist.
Campbell laughed and said, “No this (retirement) has been in the planning stages for a while.”
What a way to go out as the Patriots captured the first two NCAA national titles in school history (the men’s golf team was first about three hours ahead of Lindsey’s triumph). UT Tyler had won NAIA tennis championships before under coach Fred Kniffen, but this was a first after starting a full athletic program in NCAA Division III 10 years ago.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said Campbell, who along with his golfers will get a chance to display their trophy at the Patriot Golf Classic today at Hollytree Country Club.
“This was an absolute blessing; the best week of my life from an athletic standout,” Campbell said. “We expected the girls to go to nationals, but the boys were at best an outside chance at a bid because we did not play well at conference. When we found out the boys were going that was a bonus.”
Members of the Patriots title team are: Joey Rippel, a senior from Sugar Land; John Dukes, a senior from Rockwall; Trent Boudoin, a junior from Port Arthur; Dayton Cargill, a sophomore from Longview; and Buddy Hallman, a freshman from Richmond.
Hallman finished as runner-up medalist.
Joining Lindsey, of Montgomery, on the Patriots women’s team are Katie Crawford, a sophomore from Georgetown; Marina Rhodes, a sophomore from Rhome; and twins Jordan and Taylor Sloane, sophomores from Cypress.
The Patriots made the most of their trip to Florida. The men’s team had actually put their clubs up for about three weeks and got away from the course. But they got their games in gear quickly when they heard from the NCAA.
“I got the call on the quiet floor of the library,” Boudoin said. “Joey called me and said ‘hey, man, guess what? We got a bid.’ I said ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’ I was screaming and everyone was looking around. I couldn’t help it; I was overwhelmed with excitement.”
Both teams were near the top all four rounds; and Lindsey led wire-to-wire.
“… From start to finish, it was great,” said Campbell, whose men team finished fourth in 2009. “We were second entering the final day. We discussed the final round and we decided to enjoy the day and embrace it no matter what happens.”
The talk worked.
The Patriots trailed by two shots to Transylvania (876-878). UT Tyler carved out a seven-stroke (1,167 to 1,174) victory over Transylvania on the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resorts’ Raven course.
“My fifth player (Cargill) — who had struggled all three rounds — got off to a torrid start and didn’t let up until the last hole and I think the other players were feeding off how well he was doing,” Campbell said of the 70 carded by Cargill. “Our freshman, Buddy Hallman, was unbelievably good.
“We got to the last hole and his second shot was in front of a lot of people and on TV and he said, ‘coach I’m going to be sick.’ I told him to wait one more shot. We’ve got a lead. He knocked it up about four feet away.”
The national title along with just playing golf was meaningful in more ways than one to Rippel. Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2007, he endured six months of chemotherapy and radiation as a junior at Fort Bend Dulles.
“After that, I was just happy to play golf in college,” said Rippel, who finished in a three-way tie for 16th. “Because I didn’t play much high school (golf), I didn’t have many opportunities and coach offered me a spot.”
Rippel received his five-year, clean bill-of-health — a milestone for cancer survivors — only weeks ago, making the national tournament trip even sweeter.
“He’s the finest young man I think I’ve ever coached,” Campbell said. “He never gets down on himself, never gets mad, never uses profanity. A class guy whether he’s shooting a low or high round and he hung in there all four days when he wasn’t playing well. I can’t say that I was thinking that we were going to win it at that point, but I think that was a turning point.”
As far as the women’s team, “All year we shot 320 and the first two days there we shoot 309 and 308. Laura led wire-to-wire. All the girls played well at times,” Campbell said. “Laura is just fearless. She wants to rise to the occasion.”
Lindsey won by four strokes over runner-up Kelsie Morrison of George Fox University. The team finished eight strokes behind fellow ASC school Mary Hardin-Baylor (1,239 to 1,247).
“What I was most proud was parent after parent came up to me and told me what fine men and women we have and their kids enjoyed playing with them,” Campbell said. “… that almost feels as good as winning a national championship.
“I have been blessed with players with character and class. They are quality kids — respectful and great students.”
Campbell said the long days in the sun are difficult with his leg, so he is ready to hang them up.
“It is time for a new person to come in and take over a great program and make it better,” Campbell said. “My goal was to get both teams to the national tournament at the same place at the same time; little did I know there would be a national championship as well.
“I couldn’t write a better ending.”