Joel Sylven was the leader in the clubhouse Wednesday afternoon after firing his second straight round of 2-under-par 70 amid difficult weather conditions to get to 2 under overall in the NCAA Division II Men’s Golf Championship at TPC Michigan in Dearborn, Michigan.
But the University of Missouri–St. Louis senior still trailed Indianapolis’ Keegan Bronnenberg by two strokes on the scoreboard as the reigning NCAA Division II national champion played his final five holes of stroke play. He needed help if he was going to have a chance at capturing his own title.
Sylven got it when Bronnenberg made bogeys at No. 15 and No. 18, pulling the two into a sudden tie for the individual lead, and he was ready to take advantage. Sylven made birdie on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff while Bronnenberg settled for par, giving the senior sport management major from Falkenberg, Sweden, the championship – UMSL’s first in school history.
“It feels really good to win the title,” said Sylven, who joined the 1973 men’s soccer team as the only other national champion in UMSL’s history. “It’s been a long three days with some different weather. When I finished today, I knew my score was good. The back nine was playing hard, but you never know what the rest of the guys will do. I just had to make sure I would be ready for a playoff if need be.”
Sylven, who last month captured the Great Lakes Valley Conference individual title and has won a school-record four times this season, said he had nerves on the tee box during the playoff hole. They weren’t apparent as he drove the ball down the fairway, had a good number to the flagstick when he hit his approach and sank the putt that solidified his place in history.
“I am so happy for Joel,” UMSL Coach Troy Halterman said. “He has worked so hard and played some amazing golf in his career, but the last two days, in some very tough conditions, he has played his best. All 18 holes today was in rain, and the last nine was in a steady downpour. Him and Tony (teammate Juan Antonio Padilla) breaking par – that was amazing.”
Sylven and Padilla led UMSL to the lowest team score of the day – 5-over-par 293 – on Wednesday, helping the Tritons climb from 11th place into a tie for fifth in the 20-team field. They finished with a combined 54-hole score of 895, trailing stroke play leader Central Missouri by just five strokes as they secured a place in the eight-team match play competition that begins Thursday.
“We knew starting the day we had a lot of work to do,” Halterman said. “Our goal was to try and shoot the lowest round today, and we did that. We also knew it was going to rain all day and so it would be tough, but the kids stayed focused and just grinded through the tough conditions. I’m very happy for this group of guys. It’s always a goal to make it here, but so tough to do it.”
UMSL is seeded fifth and will square off with No. 4 seed Oklahoma Christian in a quarterfinal match beginning at 7:20 a.m. CT on Thursday. The semifinals will be played Thursday afternoon, while the championship will be played on Friday.
Sylven’s victory gave him PING First-Team All-America honors after he’d been a third team All-American in 2019 and an honorable mention All-American in 2020.
Padilla, who shot 71 on Wednesday, finished stroke play tied for 15th with a total of 222, good for honorable mention All-America honors.