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ETSU wins 20th SoCon golf title; Geuntae Kim takes individual title

Joe Avento • Updated Apr 25, 2017 at 6:25 PM

What a difference a year made for Geuntae Kim.

Kim helped East Tennessee State University to its record 20th Southern Conference men’s golf tournament championship Tuesday by winning medalist honors in a playoff in Pinehurst, North Carolina.

Kim, a sophomore from South Korea, made a short par putt on the first playoff hole at the Pinehurst No. 9 course to beat UNC Greensboro’s Jonathan Brightwell for the title. He gave ETSU its 14th individual SoCon championship.

Brightwell and Kim, who shot 74 in the final round, finished at two over par for 54 holes.

The Bucs, who have won three SoCon titles in a row, earned the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Regional pairings will be released May 4 at noon with a program on Golf Channel.

ETSU coach Fred Warren, who has coached the Bucs to 17 conference championships — 15 in the SoCon and two in the Atlantic Sun Conference — was chosen as the SoCon coach of the year for the 10th time. He was also the A-Sun’s coach of the year twice.

It was the 54th tournament victory for ETSU under Warren.

“The guys did a really nice job this week and everyone contributed to this win,” Warren said. “I am very proud of Geuntae. He put together some solid rounds and played well in pressure situations down the stretch today.

“We showed a lot of maturity and growth as a team. We have a lot of talent and the future is bright for our program. We worked hard this week and it’s a well-deserved victory.”

Tuesday’s performance was quite a turnaround for Kim, who shot 81 on the same course in last year’s final round, only to see his team hang on for a one-stroke victory as All-American senior Adrian Meronk won medalist honors. Kim made a hole-in-one during Sunday’s second round — Monday’s action was rained out — and stayed strong all week.

“It feels really good to win the conference tournament and help the team get back to another NCAA regional,” Kim said. “I was able to stay focused today and my playing partner helped calm my nerves. We were able to talk throughout the round and that helped me stay relaxed. I wasn’t nervous until I lined up for my last putt in the playoff.”

This time, no late heroics were needed as ETSU finished eight strokes ahead of runner-up UNCG.

The Bucs finished 18 over par after posting their best round of the week, a two-over 290, on the final day.

Two other ETSU players finished in the top 10. Trevor Hulbert closed with a 71 and finished third, one shot out of the playoff, and Mateusz Gradecki shot 73 and finished tied for seventh.

Cayman Ratliff closed with a 72 and was in 15th. Ben Reichert finished tied for 21st in the 40-player field.

Kim took home the champion’s hardware, but he wasn’t even on the 10-member all-conference team. Gradecki was the Bucs’ only all-conference pick.

Hulbert and Reichert were both on the all-freshman team.

Hulbert was the second member of his family honored by the SoCon. His father, Mike, was the conference’s individual champion in 1980. He was a two-time all-conference pick for ETSU and went onto win three times on the PGA Tour.

Ratliff won the Pinnacle Award for having the highest grade-point average on the winning team. He has a 3.939 cumulative GPA in finance.

Regionals will be held May 15-17 at six sites: Murfreesboro (The Grove), Austin, Texas (University of Texas Golf Club), Baton Rouge, Louisiana (University Club), West Lafayette, Indiana (Kampen Course), Stanford, California (Stanford Golf Course) and Auburn, Washington (Washington National Golf Club).

The NCAA Championship is set for May 26-31 at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Illinois.

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