By Mike Pilosof
Lubbock, TX-It’s hard to imagine that just five years ago, the Broncbuster golf team was basked in mediocrity. But a half-decade later, Phil Terpstra and Jason Hase have changed the program’s trajectory from laughable loser to perennial power. Their showing on the grandest stage that Junior College golf has to offer was all the proof that was needed.
The Broncbusters shot a team score of 21-over par, pushing them into a fourth-place tie with Western Texas College, while Isaac MacNaughton and Oliwer Toiminen came in 11th individually at the NJCAA Golf National Championships at the Rawls Course. It was the highest finish in program history.
“We were aiming for a top-10 spot coming in,” Terpstra said afterwards. “But to finish top four, that’s big time.”
Especially considering the teams that that finished in front of them. Hutchinson’s 16-under par was nine strokes better than national runner-up Odessa and 19 fewer than third-place Midland. But the Broncbusters more than held their own, especially during Wednesday’s third round where they shot a season-best 283.
“I thought we played some of our most consistent golf this week,” Hase explained. “We struggled with that aspect for most of the year. But we put everything together this week.”
Garden City stayed within striking distance of the top five throughout the tournament, and thanks to that breathtaking third-round performance, the Broncbusters were in position to make history on Thursday.
MacNaughton, who was named an NJCAA second-team All-American, played some of the best golf of his career over the final two days of the tournament. He shot 4-under on Wednesday before bouncing back from a 2-over front side on Thursday with three birdies after the turn to card a 1-under over the final nine. He finished 1-over for the day and plus-2 for the tournament.
“This is an experience that I will never forget,” MacNaughton said. “It was everything that I thought it was going to be. I loved the competition, and I built relationships that will last forever.”
MacNaughton’s feel-good story was highlighted by redemption, considering that COVID-19 wiped away he and his team’s entire 2020 campaign.
“It was frustrating that we didn’t get to play last year,” he added. “But that’s what made this entire week even better.”
No player better exemplified how far this team had come more than Toiminen, who took a season’s worth of frustration and turned it into championship golf. His three-under 69 in Monday’s opening round was his best performance of the year. And ever after shooting a 76 on Tuesday, the freshman, for the most part, played mistake free over the final 36. He was even par in round three and 1-over on the final day, turning a double bogey on nine into two birdies on the backside. He was 2-over for the tournament, tying MacNaughton for 11th.
“There was a point during the year that Oliwer was really struggling with his swing,” Terpstra explained. “But he really got things going over last couple of weeks.”
These four days more than proved that, with Toiminen earning All-American status.
“This was the most fun I’ve had all season,” he said. “This was the best golf our team played all year. And to do it on this stage was special.”
The Broncbusters third All-American, Adam Samnegard, struggled for most of Thursday’s final round. But that didn’t erase what he did over the first three days, which included a sensational 2-under, 70 in round two. He was even on Wednesday before concluding with a 4-over, 76 on Thursday. He tied for 14th with Thomas Burou from Indian Hills.
“Adam is one of the most passionate golfers I’ve ever been around,” Terpstra said. “He gets so angry when he doesn’t do well, almost a little too much because it affects the rest of his game. But he cares about this team so much.”
Samengard’s frustration was palpable after he missed a putt for par on 18 in the final round. He swung his arm in the air and slammed his club back into the bag. It was true passion from one of the best golfers to come through the program in years. But during the awards’ ceremony, the Swede with the golden smile, finally allowed himself to take in the moment.
“His passion really drove this team,” Terpstra added. “And he’s such a great kid. All of these guys are great human beings. They had a really good year both on the course and in the classroom.”
Phiolip Stjernlof, who was magnificent during Wednesday’s third round where he carded a 1-under, 71, failed to find the touch on Thursday. Yet, through all the frustrations of his final-round performance, which included eight bogeys, there he was on the par-5 11th, a 521-yard albatross that he sleighed with perfection, dropping in a putt for eagle that was followed with an emphatic fist pump. He finished the day 7-over and was plus-13 for the tournament, good for 39th place.
“I believe golf stat had us ranked 19th coming in,” MacNaughton said. “So, we felt a little disrespected. We thought we should have been ranked much higher than that. So, I think we proved a lot of people wrong.”