National Golf Invitational: Washington State makes a statement with runaway victory

In the span of just a few weeks, Washington State has run the gamut of emotions. After the team found itself the first one out of an NCAA Regional berth, the call came for a spot in the National Golf Invitational.

And then, a hard-fought, runaway postseason victory.

“We went from real disappointment, obviously having the stinging feeling of not making it to regionals,” White said. “Now you come down here, and I think these guys, this is what they wanted to do. They wanted to come down and play some really good golf and make a statement. I wouldn’t say that was our prime motivation but they just did what they did all year, they put their heads down and got to work and they played awesome.”

White can’t pinpoint one thing that propelled the Cougars to a 19-shot victory at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes in Maricopa, Arizona. It was a combination of everything, he said, and it’s not that surprising considering that Washington State went a head-turning 22 under par in the final round.

ScoresNational Golf Invitational

TCU was second at 22 under for 54 holes and Butler was third at 18 under.

If the Cougars were in the desert to make a statement about what they’re capable of, they did it and then some.

“I felt like considering how we played in the second round, the guys kind of knew that it was out there but I think 22 under was a lot of fun to watch,” White said. “They all came out ready to go and just had one of those days where I guess we saved our best for last and it was a great time to do it.”

Washington State started the day one shot behind second-round leader TCU. They played the first four holes in 9 under par and were off. The Cougars counted a bogey-free 8-under 64 from Sam Renner and a 65 from Pono Yanagi, who missed this tournament last year because he made an individual start in an NCAA Regional.

White and assistant coach Kevin Tucker took a mostly hands-off approach to the final round, letting their players work their own magic.

The night before the final round, the team ate together at Texas Roadhouse. White isn’t sure how much superstition runs through the team, but that night-before meal might be repeated a few times next season.

Past Saturday night’s team dinner, there wasn’t much time for more celebrating. Four of the players White traveled to the NGI are graduating so Washington State will look very different next fall. An NGI win was a validating end for those men.

“Just to come down here and win and I suppose in a fashion like this, I’m just happy for those guys and just a little more validation for all the work they put in and kind of a cool way to go out,” White said.

In the individual race, Valparaiso junior Anthony Delisanti did the bulk of his work in the second round with a 10-under 62 that left him one shot away from the Ak-Chin Southern Dunes course record. That’s not an easy round to follow, but Delisanti posted a closing 68 on Sunday for a one-shot victory over Washington State’s Renner.

“It’s more of a mental test than anything. Just knowing it’s going to be really hard to match that score again the next day,” Delisanti said after the final round. “Obviously it is very difficult no matter what course or tournament or whoever you’re playing against, it’s really tough to do.”

Delisanti opened the tournament with a 1-under 71 before diving to 62 the next day. The biggest difference, he said, was in his putting. Once he learned the speed of the greens, he was on his way.

Delisanti eagled both par 5s on the back nine on the way to a second-round 62, and had a good look for eagle on the short par-4 14th. Posting a round of 59 entered his mind, especially after former Alabama player Nick Dunlap posted 60 at a tournament in the Hamptons in the fall.

“I gave myself a good chance to do it,” Delisanti said. “A lot of things needed to go my way on that back nine of that second round. Either way, it was a really good day.”

The NGI title is Delisanti’s sixth in college golf. The list includes two Missouri Valley Conference titles, which earned him an invitation to NCAA Regionals each of the last two seasons. When Valparaiso played the NGI last year, Delisanti wasn’t eligible considering he had already competed in the NCAA postseason.

Valparaiso head coach David Gring marvels at Delisanti’s body of work three years into his college career, especially when you add the NGI to the list.

“The amount of time that he spends in practice and his preparation, his preparation is meticulous, his work ethic is tremendous,” Gring said. “He’s just a model student-athlete.”

Delisanti credits Gring as well as assistant coach Ron Gring (he works more with the latter on his swing and short game) for moving him forward while at Valparaiso, but also notes he has learned a considerable amount from teammate Caleb VanArragon, who finished his career at NCAA Regionals this spring as the most successful player in program history.

“He’s taught me a ton about how to prepare,” he said. “When I came in as a freshman, I learned so much from him.”

From Ak-Chin Southern Dunes, Delisanti moves on to U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying next month and then a stout schedule of Elite Amateur Series events, including the Sunnehanna Amateur, North and South Amateur and Southern Amateur. He’ll also resume his job in the bag room at Niagara Falls Country Club (site of the Porter Cup), near his Sanborn, New York, home.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek