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Remembering when ETSU beat Tiger’s Stanford team

Joe Avento • Apr 17, 2019 at 7:20 PM

Tiger Woods’ thrilling win in the Masters brought to mind the time East Tennessee State University finished ahead of his Stanford team in the NCAA Championship.

In the 1996 national tournament at the Honors Course near Chattanooga, ETSU finished third for its highest NCAA finish ever. Woods’ Stanford team was one shot behind the Bucs, who spent some time during the season ranked No. 1 in the country.

Woods won the individual championship handily despite shooting 80 on the final day. His Stanford team was among the favorites.

“It was a big deal,” Keith Nolan, a key player on that ETSU team, said Wednesday morning. “We had a great year. Obviously, being ranked No. 1 in the country was great. We didn’t play as well in the spring. To make the NCAAs and finish in the top three was really cool. And having Tiger there took it to another level.”

The Bucs’ result wasn’t secured until Nolan pulled off a tricky up-and-down for par on the final hole. For years, Nolan has been told what a tough task he pulled off, yet even 23 years later, he doesn’t think it was that difficult.

“I didn’t think it was that tough,” Nolan said. “Everybody else thought it was. Maybe I was too naive.

“I was a little pissed I didn’t birdie 17. I hit it over the back of 18. Probably the strength of my game was chipping. I had a Ping Eye-2 L wedge. I really didn’t think it was as big a deal as people made out. If I had realized how hard it was, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten up and down.”

Eleven months later, Woods won his first green jacket, but the phenomenon known as “Tigermania” had already begun.

“It didn’t feel like a college tournament,” Nolan said. “There were so many people there. Of the four NCAAs we played in, that was the toughest setup. It felt bigger than a college event. Tiger just made every event special, different.”

Nolan, who played on the PGA Tour after his college career, is in his eighth year as Lee Janzen’s caddie on the PGA Tour Champions. He said he only saw Woods play one shot at the Honors Course that year, but it was one he remembers to this day.

“It was a 6-iron into a par-3,” Nolan said. “It lands on a downslope and checks. I looked at the two guys I’m playing with and said ‘I don’t have that shot.’ ”

Nolan said he watched this year’s Masters and couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“I would have lost a lot of money,” he said. “Tiger’s back. Where he came from is a miracle. He doesn’t move the needle. He is the needle. When I played on Tour for those couple years, wherever he was in a tournament, it took it to another degree.”

CLIFF NOTES

Cliff Kresge is five tournaments into his first year on the PGA Tour Champions.

Kresge has earned $27,137. While that doesn’t have him near the upper echelon— Bernhard Langer leads with $569,133 — he is ahead of several former major winners.

With the purses on the 50-and-over circuit, Kresge could still end up with a huge year with a couple of good weeks.

TGA AT JCCC

Johnson City Country Club will have a state event later this year when the TGA Women’s Mid-Amateur and Senior Championships are held.

The events, which run concurrently, will be played Sept. 24-25.

GOOD MONTH FOR LOY

ETSU’s Hee Ying Loy had quite an April. The senior from Malaysia was invited to play in the first Augusta National Women’s Amateur and then finished second in the Southern Conference tournament, leading the Bucs to a second-place finish as well.

Loy also finished seventh individually at the Brickyard Collegiate.

SOCON MEN

The Southern Conference men’s tournament will be held April 21-23 on the No. 9 Course in Pinehurst, North Carolina. It’s a course where the Bucs have won three times.

It will be the final conference tournament for ETSU coach Fred Warren, who is retiring in June.

Warren has been coach of the year in the SoCon and Atlantic Sun 12 times. His teams have won 17 conference championships.

BULLDOG CLASSIC

Elizabethton golf course will be the site of the Hampton Bulldog Classic on May 28. The four-person select shot is in its 13th year and proceeds go to the Hampton basketball teams.

The entry fee is $50 per person. Call Mike Matheson at (423) 491-1377 for more information.

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