In its final regular-season tournament this year, the Rice golf team won its first title of the season, holding off second-place Lipscomb University by five strokes at the Ryman Hospitality Intercollegiate in Nashville, Tenn. Senior Mitchell Meissner shot a season-low five-under par and tied for first place overall, earning Conference USA’s Co-Golfer of the Week award for the second time in his Rice career.
It was a wire-to-wire win for the Owls, as they took a four-shot lead after the first round, led by Meissner’s season-low score of 67. During the second round of play, Rice widened the lead even further, carding the only team round under par on the day on their way to opening up a nine-stroke lead over the competition. The Owls struggled a bit on the front nine of the third and final round but righted the ship on the back nine and closed out strong with a five-stroke team victory. Head coach Justin Emil said he was impressed with the team’s composure in the final round.
“A lot of times, when you’re leading through two rounds, there’s an increased amount of pressure to get the job done,” Emil said. “[But] that’s what they did, especially on the final nine holes, where they shot eight under [par].”
Meissner recorded the second victory of his collegiate career and became only the second Rice golfer since 1985 to card multiple victories as an Owl. Through two rounds, he led the field by four strokes, recording a career-best 36-hole score of 136 on the par-71 course. He struggled early during the last round at four over par on the front nine, but he recovered smoothly with three birdies on the back nine to finish tied for the individual title. Meissner said it was just a matter of staying patient and waiting for the shots to fall.
“On the front nine, I wasn’t that far off; I had some unlucky breaks,” Meissner said. “I knew that my game was still there and I just [told] myself to be patient. [I knew] that birdies were out there, and I had to go chase them.”
Emil said Meissner’s performance was especially impressive considering a key adjustment he made mid-season.
“[Meissner] had struggled with his putting in the fall, [so] he switched to left-handed putting, from right-handed,” Emil said. “I think he might be the only college golfer ever to switch from right to left handed and win both ways.”
Senior Mario Carmona had the Owls’ second-best performance of the week, tying for ninth place overall — his 11th career top-ten finish — and freshmen Jake Benson and Rishi Kejriwal both placed in the top 20 overall. According to Meissner, the victory was especially important for the freshmen on the team.
“It’s big for [Benson and Kejriwal] to get a win their freshman year and see that success,” Meissner said. “I think they will continue to strive for that and create an atmosphere of excellence and success on the team going forward.”
Prior to last week’s tournament, the Owls had endured some recent struggles, failing to crack the top 10 in three of their last four contests. According to Carmona, this week’s victory couldn’t have come at a better time.
“Victory is always good, no matter when it comes,” Carmona said. “[But] especially around this time of the year, it means a lot, going into conference and building some momentum. At the end of the day, we feel good and we’re going to [keep doing] what we’ve been doing: just being patient and committing to every shot at hand.”
The Owls now look forward to the postseason, which begins on Tuesday at the C-USA championship in Texarkana, Ark. According to Emil, the team’s strong chemistry will be a crucial part of their future success, as it has been all year.
“We’ve got a great group of guys; they get along wonderfully,” Emil said. “They encourage each other, they have tough conversations with each other, they help each other out: They do everything together and they do it well. I couldn’t be more pleased with this group.”