1997 Men's Golf NCAA Champions
Pepperdine posted a three-over-par score of 287 to hold off a furious final day charge by Wake Forest and claim its first-ever NCAA men's golf title on May 31, 1997, at the Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, Ill., near Chicago.
Heading into the final round, Pepperdine held a two-shot lead over tournament host Northwestern. The Waves withstood the pressure with a final-round 287. They watched their closest challengers fall off the pace and completed the four-day, 72-hole tournament with a team total of a 12-over-par 1,148 to beat runner-up Wake Forest by three shots.
Wake Forest began the day in 11th place, but the Demon Deacons carded a five-under-par score of 279 to zoom up the leaderboard and make things close.
Clemson posted an even-par score of 284 and finished in third place with a final total of 1,153, five shots behind Pepperdine.
The Waves, making their third-ever appearance at the NCAA Championships, were seeded 24th at the 30-team event.
Pepperdine competed at the tournament without the services of first-year head coach John Geiberger, who traveled with the team to Chicago but was confined to his hotel room after contracting the chicken pox. Kevin Marsh, a former player at Pepperdine from 1993-96, and Tim Wilhelm, a former Pepperdine Associate Athletic Director, assisted the team during the tournament.
"It was a really tough week to miss, but, to tell you the truth, I was pretty sick all week," said Geiberger from his hotel room after Pepperdine had secured the national championship. "But, I feel great now. I am chowing on a steak, and I have the national championship trophy here in my room ... so I must be okay."
The Waves departed for Chicago on May 24, and Geiberger indicated that he began feeling ill later that evening.
"At first, I thought I just had the flu, but by Monday I knew it was something worse," Geiberger said.
Geiberger did not attend the practice rounds on May 26 and 27, and was eventually confined to his room at the Deerfield Hyatt. In fact, Geiberger never laid eyes on the Conway Farms Golf Club until he watched the live final-round coverage on ESPN.
Pepperdine players inked Geiberger's initials and 425 -- his hotel room number -- on the back of their hats at the beginning of the tournament as a tribute to their ailing coach.
"There were so many good teams at the NCAA Championships, but, prior to the event, I was confident that we would play well," Geiberger said. "I just prepared the team as the year went along, and in February I started to get a great feeling about the team. We had two guns (Jason Gore and Michael Walton) as good as anyone in the country, and they proved that during the tournament."
Clemson junior Charles Warren beat Brad Elder of Texas on the first sudden-death playoff hole at the NCAA Championships to claim the individual title in the 100th anniversary year of the event. Warren dropped a short par putt to claim the crown after he and Elder had tied at five-under par 279 through 72 holes.
Pepperdine senior Jason Gore held a one-shot lead heading into the final hole, but suffered a double-bogey and had to settle for a third-place tie with Keith Nolan of East Tennessee State at four-under-par 280.
"It was the best double-bogey that I ever made," Gore said. "I heard that we had a six-stroke lead in the team standings, and there were 50 million thoughts running through my head so it was hard to play golf. It doesn't matter that I did not win the individual championship because I love all of these guys and the team trophy is what college golf is all about."
Pepperdine senior Michael Walton finished fifth in the final individual standings at three-under-par 281 after firing an impressive score of 68 in the final round.
"The whole week was magical," Walton said. "Coach got the chicken pox, and Kevin (Marsh) just happened to be here. The circumstances were nothing like what we expected, but we are all great players and we knew we had to play our best golf in order to win. This is the best feeling you could ever imagine."
Junior Andy Walker tied for 20th place at four-over-par 288, and indicated that the experience of competing at the NCAA Championships the previous year was a big advantage.
"We did not come here (to the NCAA Championships) to just experience playing again," Walker said. "There is so much you can get caught up in here, and that is what happened to us last year -- we forgot to play golf. The main thing is we had fun and the whole experience has been amazing."
Adding to the story, Pepperdine had just barely advanced to the NCAA Championships. The Waves finished ninth at the NCAA West Regional, held May 15-17 at the Carleton Oaks Country Club in Santee, Calif., and edged Brigham Young by just one shot to secure the final berth.