After securing a second-place finish in the 2021 NCAA Men’s Golf Noblesville Regional, the sixth-seeded UNC Men’s Golf team headed to Scottsdale, Arizona, with the hope of bringing the national championship title back to Chapel Hill.
The Tar Heels had visited Arizona previously for their final regular season tournament, so they had some experience with the desert conditions. However, they arrived in Scottsdale five days before the tournament began to assure they were prepared.
“That helped us formulate our game plan going into the national championship,” head coach Andrew DiBitetto said.
Round one of the NCAA Championship was underway on May 28 at the Grayhawk Golf Club, as UNC competed against 30 other teams vying for a championship. The Tar Heels shot their highest score in their past five tournaments, with no North Carolina golfer shooting under par. Although the team made efforts to prepare for the tournament, first-year Peter Fountain explained that it is different in real time with the adrenaline rush of competing.
“There’s an element that you can’t prepare for in a tournament,” Fountain said.
The second round was far more successful for the Tar Heels, who were able to settle down and climb ten spots to fifth place. This impressive jump was in part thanks to the 2-under-par 68 finishes by Fountain and junior Ryan Gerard. Fountain’s 68 was the third-lowest score ever shot by a UNC first year in the NCAA Championship.
The second round was the first time that the North Carolina team scored under par in a round of the NCAA Championship since 2017, and it was their best finish in a championship round since 2002. Fountain attributes some of this success to the team’s early arrival.
“The teams that got there later definitely struggled more than the teams that got there earlier,” Fountain said.
Sunday’s third round resulted in a 7-over-par finish for North Carolina, dropping them one spot to a sixth-place tie. Because the Tar Heels ended round three in the top fifteen, they advanced to the fourth round of the tournament for the first time since 2018.
On Monday, North Carolina fell two more spots in the standings and just made the cut for match play, placing them in an eight-team bracket to compete for the title. As the No. 8 seed, UNC faced up against No. 1 Arizona State, a match for which they had high expectations.
“Golf is a sport where it’s very difficult to win,” DiBitetto said. “Our expectation and belief is that we’re going to go to every tournament and win it.”
Despite the confidence, Arizona State proved too much for the Tar Heels as the Sun Devils won three matches and split another to defeat North Carolina in the quarterfinals.
“We obviously wanted to come away with a victory at the end,” senior Austin Hitt said. “Unfortunately, it did not end up that way.”
However, the NCAA Championship wasn’t all bad for the Tar Heels. UNC ended the tournament with a fifth-place finish, the program’s best since 1993, but this competitive team wanted more.
“They’re not celebrating it,” DiBitetto said. “The only thing they were really focused on is that Arizona State beat us in the quarterfinals. That leaves a sour taste in their mouths.”
Fountain won his match against Arizona State and was named a first-team All-American by Golf Coaches Association of America, something that did call for celebration amongst his team.
“Everybody’s extremely happy for Peter,” DiBitetto said. “Not only is he amazing on the golf course; he’s even more incredible off the golf course.”
As the team looks towards the future, Fountain said his goals for next season are to be named a first-team All-American again next season and not finish outside of the top 20 in any tournament. Hitt, who is leaving behind his team after five years, is hopeful for their future success.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what they do moving forward,” Hitt said. “The coaches have done a great job establishing a super good culture around the team.”
Despite the impressive end to the season for the UNC Men’s Golf team, they left Scottsdale looking for more and they’re eager to see what the future holds with the young Fountain leading the way.