It has been a long time since Saint Vincent College could lay claim to a conference championship in men's golf ... 53 years, in fact. But it has been even longer since the golf team competed for a national championship.
The Bearcats, behind the play of medalist Micah Markantone, captured the four-round Presidents' Athletic Conference championship to earn the automatic berth into the NCAA Division III tournament. It is Saint Vincent's first conference championship since winning the NAIA West Penn Conference title in 1960 and the Bearcats' first trip to a national tournament in school history.
The PAC championship is a four-round tournament, split with two rounds in the fall and two in the spring. The team with the lowest combined score between the fall and spring qualifies for the Division III golf championship May 14-17 at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in Destin, Fla.
In September, Markantone, a sophomore Murrysville resident from Franklin Regional, shot a 75-70-145 on the par-70 course at Oak Tree Country Club to finish first by two shots over Thiel's Bryan Smith. As a team, the Bearcats won the PAC Fall Invitational by 12 shots over defending conference champion Washington & Jefferson.
That lead carried over into the two-day event April 22-23 at Cedarbrook Golf Club. Markantone again earned medalist honors with a two-day, 74-73-147 on the par-72 course to outdistance teammate Tim Barto by two shots. Saint Vincent won easily over W&J by 15 shots for a four-round overall victory of 27 shots and the automatic bid.
"We always play to win," said Saint Vincent coach Tom Cline, the PAC coach of the year. "We have a lot of respect for W&J, who has been perennial winners of the conference. There are other good teams there, too. Thiel is getting better, Grove City is improving. It's a nice conference. There's a healthy balance of competitiveness and camaraderie in the Presidents' Athletic Conference and everybody thinks they can win."
Markantone has helped the Bearcats win this season with a tournament scoring average of 77.0 shots per round. An accounting-finance major, Markantone is the PAC individual champion and most valuable player.
"Micah is a thin body builder. He's very strong," Cline said. "If you looked at him, he looks like Tiger [Woods.] He has that smooth muscle tone. He hits it very long but he's an awesome putter. He has this very thick grip and he puts his palms together and points his thumbs down and he has this pendulum motion. He makes a lot of putts from 20 feet in."
Also among the top golfers at Saint Vincent are Sam Cline, the coach's son and graduate of Greater Latrobe, and Derek Lingafelt, a graduate of Penn-Trafford.
Sam Cline, a junior math-physics major with a 3.8 grade point average, is the 2012 PAC individual champion and MVP and two-time PAC player of the week. His tournament scoring average of 74.3 will be his final number at Saint Vincent.
"Samuel only plays a couple of events for us because he's so busy with mathematics and physics," Tom Cline said. "He's going to be going to Pitt next year for engineering in what is called a 3-2 program. I'm lucky to get him to play three events all year and that's tough on him.
"He's a very small kid, probably about 150 pounds, but he's a very long hitter. It's fun to watch that, this little blonde-haired kid hit the ball 300 yards. He has a nice game. He's very mentally tough. He tends to get off to a rocky start but always seems to battle back."
Lingafelt carries a 76.5 scoring average and also is a two-time PAC player of the week. A junior finance-math major with a 3.7 grade point average, Lingafelt was the medalist at the Doug Rogers Memorial golf tournament, hosted by Saint Vincent at Latrobe Country Club, the Bearcats' home course.
"I don't think Derek has ever shot a round in the 80s for me," said Cline, a professor of marketing and statistics at Saint Vincent with a background in psychology. "He's like clock-work, you can count on a decent round from him. He's probably the best chipper. He can get down from anywhere, downhill lies to short-sided pins, he's just a magician with a sand wedge.
"Those three kids have been outstanding, but our fourth and fifth guys have been outstanding, too. Tim Barto is only a sophomore. He didn't even play in PAC last year and he finished second this year. I'd say he's the most improved player. Jake Reed (Latrobe) is our fifth player and he's probably the best putter I've seen in the 10-12 years I've coached."
The Bearcats will need all their putts to fall if they are going to fare well in Florida. Forty teams will compete in the four-day tournament, with a cut after the first two rounds trimming the field to 15 teams for the final two rounds.
"I wouldn't predict, I know it's a very competitive group, but it would be wonderful to finish in the middle of the field," Cline said.
"I don't harass the kids. I'm a professor here so their academics come first. I make it clear that Division III athletics are supposed to supplement their education. It's not supposed to overwhelm it. So I guess that's my way of saying we remain a little bit laid back about all of it."
Rick Davis: email@example.com or 412-263-3789.