James McLean Wins 1998 NCAA Golf Championship
(Originally posted on May 30, 1998 at Gophersports.com)
University of Minnesota freshman James McLean fired a final round three-under par 69 to capture the individual title at the 1998 NCAA Men's Golf Championships at the University of New Mexico Championship Golf Course in Albuquerque, N.M. McLean's 72-hole total score of 17-under par 271 ties the NCAA individual all-time 72-hole record set by Arizona State's Phil Mickelson in 1991.
McLean birdied the second, fifth, ninth and 10th holes to move to 18-under par. After narrowly missing birdie putts at 13 and 14, the Australian parred 15 and 16 before an errant tee shot at the 248-yard, par three 17th hole found the left rough. McLean flopped a wedge shot to within 12 feet and calmly sank the par putt to hold at 18 under.
McLean tagged his longest drive of the day on the 597-yard, par five 18th hole, blasting the ball through the fairway dogleg into the left rough. After a layup shot and a pitch left McLean 25 feet away from the cup, he three-putted the hole to finish with his only bogey of the day and only his second of the last two rounds.
Three competitors still had the opportunity to pass McLean before the title was sealed. The closest someone came to upending McLean was Chris Berry of team champion UNLV. Berry was tied with McLean at 17-under par before bogeying the 17th hole. Needing a birdie to tie and force a playoff, Berry narrowly missed a 20-foot uphill putt, giving Minnesota its first NCAA individual golf title since Louis Lick in 1944.
"Sitting and waiting (after playing) was the worst part," McLean said. "I played well on the front nine, but couldn't seem to get any putts to drop on the back side. I really felt like I needed a par or even a birdie on 18 to at least force a playoff, but luckily everything still worked out."
"This is a tremendous feather in our program's cap," head coach John Means said. "With James' performance and with us hosting the NCAA Championships next season, this is an exciting time for Minnesota golf."