From where Shane Howell was sitting, Sunday at the National Golf Invitational felt like the Kentucky Derby.
“Somehow, some way we ended up on top of the board,” said Howell, head coach at Texas State.
Scoring swings are a reality of college golf, but the final round at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes in Maricopa, Arizona, was something else entirely. Five teams landed within two shots of each other at the top of the leaderboard with Texas State, at 7 under for the week, narrowly beating Penn State and Wyoming, who tied for second at 6 under. Ball State and Stetson tied for fourth at 5 under. All five teams had the lead at some point on Sunday.
Howell normally isn’t a serial Golfstat refresher while he coaches, but Sunday was a different story. Howell checked the leaderboard after the first six holes to find his counters 9 over for the day. He checked it again after 12 holes and saw the beginning of a comeback.
🏆 National Golf Invitational Champions! @TxStateMGolf pic.twitter.com/47hKvq8QM3
— Lance Ringler (@GolfweekRingler) May 22, 2023
Howell went to work on the par-5 16th hole, which Texas State played in 2 under thanks to birdies from Marcelo Garza and Jack Burke. Howell’s assistant Logan Davis was up ahead at the par-3 17th where the team struggled, counting two bogeys and a double and losing their lead to Wyoming.
By the time Garza, in Texas State’s anchor position, was standing over his approach at the par-4 18th, Howell was next to him. Garza hit his drive right into some high brush but got free relief from an old sprinkler head and punched down the fairway to 90 yards.
“I met him down there,” Howell said. “He said, ‘Hey, where do we stand?’ I said, ‘Bogey gets us the title.’ So he hit it up on the middle of the green about 35 feet and two-putted.”
Ball State was one of those teams circling the lead and while the Cardinals ultimately came up two shots short of Texas State, sophomore Kash Bellar became the inaugural NGI champion.
Every time Bellar saw Ball State head coach Mike Fleck on the course on Sunday, he asked for a status report.
“He would just tell us, ‘Hey, we’re ok, doing alright, falling behind,’” Bellar said.
Bellar’s final-round card wasn’t flashy – he made three birdies and three bogeys for an even-par 72 that left him with a one-shot win at 7 under. He managed birdie on the driveable par-4 14th from a greenside bunker, which gave him a big momentum boost and then sealed the title by rolling…
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