Richmond conquers closing holes to win Golfweek/Any Given Tuesday event and a Haskins exemption

The Augusta/Haskins Award Invitational – for any team, but particularly a mid-major one – is what you might call a schedule upgrade. Richmond coach Adam Decker will be happy to work it into next season’s lineup after his team won the exemption at the rain-shortened Golfweek/Any Given Tuesday Collegiate on Tuesday.

Richmond had a one-shot lead on Long Island University and Valparaiso through two rounds at True Blue Golf Club in Pawley’s Island, South Carolina, and was ready do battle during a final round that was forecasted to be wet. But with a handful of holes left on the back nine, heavy rain made True Blue unplayable, and scores reverted to 36 holes, leaving Richmond with the title and Long Island and Valparaiso in a tie for second.

“We were making a couple birdies before the big monsoon hit,” Decker said. “I felt like we were in a really good spot to finish strongly.”

Not only does Richmond receive a spot in the 20205 Augusta/Haskins tournament but since the event is played in the days leading up to the Masters, each team in the field traditionally receives tickets for Monday’s practice round at Augusta National.

Scores: Golfweek/Any Given Tuesday Collegiate

“We weren’t super focused on everything that surrounds it, we just wanted to keep getting a little better each week this season,” Decker said of playing solid golf with that carrot dangling. “This is like icing on the cake and certainly being able to play in the Haskins next year and go to the Masters, the guys are over the moon and we’re thrilled to be a part of it.”

The closing holes at True Blue Golf Club in Pawley’s Island, South Carolina, require some strategy. They’re scoreable yet penal. Richmond was 3 shots off the lead when they hit that stretch in the first round but ballooned to double digits back. That stretch became a point of conversation in a subsequent team meeting.

“Our conversation the night before was let’s just get in position to have a chance on Wednesday and get it within shouting distance,” Decker said. “Lo and behold, Cole (Ekert) really put the team on his back and shot 6 under par and the other guys really hung in there and were able to get a one-shot lead going into Wednesday.”

Ekert, a junior, made seven birdies in his team-leading charge before making his sole bogey at the par-4 18th for a round of 66. He was 8 under for the tournament, which resulted in his second individual win. Valparaiso’s Caleb VanArragon was second a shot back.

As Ekert was scoring, Decker thinks his teammates might have picked up on the buzz from spectators. He didn’t bring it up. Regardless, his team navigated the closing holes deftly and that ultimately made the difference.

Richmond's Cole Ekert (Golfweek photo)
Richmond's Cole Ekert (Golfweek photo)

Richmond’s Cole Ekert (Golfweek photo)

This is Richmond’s first team title since the 2021 VCU Shootout. It’s well-timed momentum leading into the Atlantic 10 Championship in three weeks. Decker said this is a deep team with competitive qualifying.

“We’ve had a lot of different lineup looks trying to figure out what makes the most sense for the end of the year and conference championship, so I think we’re just trying to figure out the right pieces to the puzzle at this point.”

Richmond is going to need to be prepared to go really low at the conference championship, Decker knows, so the focus in qualifying leading up to that tournament will be getting comfortable in the red. That might involve playing shorter tees in practice – anything to reinforce birdies.

“I think the mindset has to kind of evolve to a spot where you’re really comfortable being 5 under par and looking for one more,” he said.

Postseason is the time of year when coaches are looking to find out what their teams are made of, and just as Decker’s squad showed him something at True Blue, so did Ben Belfield’s Long Island men.

Under bleak final-round conditions, Long Island mounted a charge, getting to 7 under before the course became unplayable. They had a lead on Richmond entering the final stretch and Belfield took a lot away from that performance – particularly what it shows him about mental fortitude with such a massive opportunity on the line.

“For them to come down against a good field on a good golf course and show themselves and show other people that we’re not just some scrappy northeast program, these kids can play,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll see more of that as we go through the rest of the season, but it’s a big deal. It was really nice to see.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek