In all five events on Greensboro College’s schedule, the senior’s final-round score was higher than his previous rounds. It was also a team thing: the Pride’s average for round one and two was 294.4 and for round three it was 305, however Greensboro still managed one tournament victory, two thirds and two fourths.
But all that was quickly forgotten when Elder fired a final-round 67 at Grandover Resort’s East Course on May 13, and Greensboro posted a 290 to expand a three-shot lead into a six-shot margin and capture the NCAA Division III national championship.
“I look back at this spring and we’ve been leading some tournaments and we messed up the last day,” Elder said. “I told Ben (teammate Ben Nihart) that I don’t have a good final-round record. My first two days are usually pretty good and my last day is always over par.”
But this time was going to be different.
“When I saw that we still had the lead by three, I just had a peace about it that we were going to be OK. This is different, this is the national championship and we came to play.”
It was the first 72-hole tournament of the season for Greensboro. The first three days netted scores of 291, 289 and 297 with all five players contributing. Elder and Nihart shot 71-72 the first day and Kirk Mitchell and Josh Nichols posted those same numbers to lead the team on day two. Nihart came back with a 72 in round three as the Pride took the lead. Only Elder (71-73-74) and Connor Kennedy (75-73-75) counted in the team tally all three days.
“One thing I noticed the first couple of days was all five of our guys were contributing,” said Dirk Fennie, Greensboro’s second-year coach. “I told the guys that our lineup was solid and everybody was going to help each other. Nobody was going to let anybody else down.”
Greensboro pretty much kept the lead the entire final round, though Illinois Wesleyan offered a brief scare when No. 1 player Ryan Dorner rolled in six birdies in his first 13 holes. But the Titans’ charge was short lived and Dorner settled for a 71.
Wesleyan’s run ended at about the time Elder took charge. After playing the front nine in 35, he began the home stretch with three straight birdies.
The one at the short par-3 12th was key as Elder’s shot barely cleared the rock-lined creek and settled just off the front of the green.
“I chunked it a little bit, a gap wedge and it ended in the fringe. I read the putt from the rocks. It was screaming through the green, but it hit the back of the hole and went in.”
The final birdie was almost an eagle. His 5-iron approach on the par-4 15th teased the hole and left him with a tap-in.
“That’s a special round to have as a senior,” Nihart said of his teammate. “He came out there firing and that was awesome to see.”
Nihart gave the Pride a second red number as he shot 35-36 and played the last eight holes 1-under, but Greensboro still needed a third and fourth score.