It is often said that the back nine on Sunday is the most exciting part of any major championship golf tournament.
If that adage is true, then University of North Florida golfer Kevin Phelan finished his collegiate career in major championship style.
A four-time All-Atlantic Sun Conference performer, Phelan closed his decorated UNF career with a flurry of golfing triumphs spread across a stretch of just seven weeks. The whirlwind of competition included a pair of NCAA postseason events, two national championships and a prestigious international amateur tournament.
The Waterford, Ireland native had already enjoyed a successful senior season even before this run, having claimed his first individual medalist title at the UNF-hosted John Hayt Collegiate Invitational in February. He also helped lead the Ospreys to a second straight Atlantic Sun Conference crown in April.
Phelan’s trek began in Tallahassee, where the UNF senior joined his teammates at the NCAA Regional hosted by Florida State. Playing in a 13-team field that included several teams ranked among the nation’s Top 10, Phelan, who finished in a tie for fifth individually, and his fellow Ospreys made UNF and A-Sun history by capturing the first-ever team title at an NCAA Regional. UNF led wire-to-wire en route to the championship, shattering program and conference scoring records in the process.
Phelan and the Ospreys headed to Atlanta for the NCAA Championship for a second consecutive season and the third time in his four-year career. The NCAA Championship features 54 holes of stroke play leading to a cut of the 30-team field down to eight teams, who advance to a seeded match-play bracket to decide the championship.
Phelan struggled in his opening round but rebounded with two solid rounds of play to aid a strong closing charge by the Ospreys. Unfortunately, UNF was unable to qualify for match play, finishing 18th in the nation. It marked the third Top 20 national finish for UNF in the last four years.
After qualifying for the U.S. Open, Phelan had little time to enjoy the accomplishment, as he headed directly to Delaware to join the rest of the European team participating in the prestigious Palmer Cup, an annual competition pitting the top college players from the United States and Europe in a Ryder Cup-style event. Phelan earned his spot on Team Europe with a strong senior campaign and had the added thrill of getting to play against senior UNF teammate Sean Dale, who qualified for Team USA.
While the European team did not have the best weekend of play, falling to the Americans 20.5 to 9.5, Phelan was one of the bright spots for his side, earning two points with a win and a pair of draws in his four matches.
Palmer Cup play wrapped up in June, with Phelan set for his first U.S. Open practice round at the U.S. Open in Ardmore, Pa. the very next day.
Teeing off in the morning on the back nine in his opening round, Phelan carded a one-over-par 71 and finished the first day with the best score of the 10 amateur golfers in the field. His solid play even garnered the attention of the NBC-TV coverage, as he was shown several times during their live broadcast.
With an afternoon tee time for round two, weather delays forced an even later start time for Phelan, who was only able to complete nine holes before darkness suspended play. On the Saturday of the U.S. Open, Phelan finished his second round with a score of 77 (+7). He made the cut and played on that weekend, one of just three amateur players.
Phelan’s play on the weekend included rounds of 78 and 74, allowing him to earn a tie for 62nd with a final score of 300.
“The U.S. Open was a tremendous experience,” Phelan said. “I was fortunate that my swing coach, Mark McCumber, was able to be with me during my practice rounds. Mark had played in the previous U.S. Open at Merion, so his advice was invaluable. I had a great start on the first day with some of my best-ever ball striking, and despite not making many putts, I had put myself in to good position. Playing on the weekend was a fantastic experience to play in such a vibrant atmosphere and on such a challenging course. I definitely learned a huge amount over those four days. Without question, the U.S. Open demanded complete concentration and incredible patience, while testing every facet of my golf game.”
His amazing stretch of golf concluded in late-June at the Irish Open, the national championship for his home country. Phelan was one of just four amateurs invited to participate in the event and narrowly missed the cut by a single stroke.
“I am hugely proud of helping UNF to our first NCAA Regional title,” he said. “However, I have to say my proudest moment was probably having the opportunity to represent my home country in competition. Representing Europe was something that I had always dreamt of doing, especially in such a prestigious event like the Palmer Cup. One thing that made it even more meaningful was to have my teammate, Sean Dale, joining me as the first players from UNF to earn selections for the Palmer Cup.”
Phelan spent the rest of the summer playing in several events in the hopes of claiming a spot on the Great Britain/Ireland team for the Walker Cup competition. Phelan plans to turn professional and begin preparation for both the PGA and European Tour Qualifying schools. He also looks to return to the UNF campus in spring 2014 to finish up requirements for his degree in sport management.