GREENSBORO, N.C. — For as much success as the University of La Verne men's golf team has had in its history, it had never produced a national champion.
It has one now.
Senior Kelby Scharmann shot a four-round score of nine-under 279 to claim La Verne's first-ever individual medalist honors at the NCAA Division III Men's Golf National Championship at the Grandover Resort and earned the Arnold Palmer Individual National Champion Award.
"I remember my freshman year looking through our record books and seeing that we had never won a championship and I really wanted that," Scharmann said. "I thought this was something that I could achieve, but it was so far down the road and I didn't know what it meant.
"To be the first in La Verne history is really cool."
La Verne head coach Christopher Davis '08, who was a two-time All-American and a participant in three national championships as a player at La Verne, believes La Verne's tradition of excellence helped Scharmann reach his goal.
"It's very special," Davis said. "I came in as an assistant in Kelby's freshman year and have had a first-hand opportunity to watch him develop. He's learned from the best, including our assistant coach Mitchell Fedorka, who is the best player that La Verne has ever seen until today and Kelby now belongs in the same sentence. It is a testament to Kelby's willingness to learn and take full advantage of the world-class resources that La Verne offers."
Fedorka, who came within inches of winning the national championship in 2009 before falling in a sudden-death playoff, was awash with emotions as Scharmann came into the clubhouse. The 2009 Jack Nicklaus Award recipient as the nation's top player served as the Leopards' on-field coach this week and was able to see Scharmann up close.
"I was just excited for him," Fedorka said. "I came so close in 2009 and I felt like he finished what I couldn't and I'm overjoyed for him. I told him on the ride back that I'm a little jealous but I'm excited for him."
Scharmann won by six shots over Anthony Maccaglia of Oglethorpe and Jeff Wells of Methodist, but the final tally doesn't indicate how close the competition was.
Maccaglia and Scharmann went into the final round tied for first at seven under par and matched each other shot-for-shot on the front nine on Friday, with both making the turn at even.
Scharmann, who was playing about three holes ahead of Maccaglia, blinked first as he bogeyed his 11th and 13th holes. Seemingly aware of what was happening ahead of him, Maccaglia pounced with a birdie on his 10th to grab a three-shot lead.
Scharmann knew he was down. "I had asked my mom after I bogeyed my 13th hole and she told me I was three shots back at that point," Scharmann said. "Did I think it was over? Kind of. Did I think it was outside of the realm of possibility that I could still win? No. I just kept doing what I've been doing all year, just trying to clear my head, just keep swinging away and letting it happen."
Then he made the play of his life. After saving par on the fifth, Scharmann nailed an eagle on par-5 No. 6 to get back within one stroke of Maccaglia and back in the thick of the race. He pulled the drive a little to the left, but used the three-wood to get the ball near the pin and converted a five-foot putt. "That was pretty special," Scharmann said of the eagle. "I didn't even hit my best drive but I knew I needed to make something happen. So I pulled the three-wood, carved it right in there and converted the putt, which was just as important as the shot."
Scharmann saved par on No. 7 and pulled even with Maccaglia as the Oglethorpe senior bogeyed his No. 4. Scharmann then sank two straight birdies to close out the tournament and saw Maccaglia drop four strokes in his last five holes.
"I knew Kelby was going to be in it ever since he went on his seven-under-in-six-holes run on the first day," Davis said. "He's able to go through stretches of golf like that that not a lot of guys in amateur golf are able to do so I didn't think he was out of it by any means."
In addition to the Arnold Palmer Award, Scharmann was named to First Team All-America by the Golf Coaches Association of America.
The Leopards finished 14th as a team (297-304-304-314=1219). Alec Spencer had the second lowest score of the day for the Leopards, shooting a five-over 77. Michael Bonicatto made three birdies and finished with a seven-over 79 and Trent Twamley posted a 16-over 88 to round out La Verne's scoring. Justin Smith carded a 22-over 94.
Methodist won the team championship with a four-round score of 1173 (284-302-295-292).