In the fall of 2015, Joe Knight transferred to Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona. Upon his arrival he founded the school's club golf team. In their first semester as a club they performed above expectations, placing 4th at Regional #1 while breaking 400 both days. Zachary Capel made his debut at the second regional, taking home medalist honors and leading GCU to their first ever NCCGA tournament victory.
In 2016, the club team came up just short of a nationals bid in both the Spring and Fall semesters. In the fall it came down to a 6th player tiebreaker at the end of both regionals to decide the bid. GCU lost the tiebreaker to Arizona State, and was once again just a few shots short of securing that elusive bid to nationals.
The bid stopped becoming elusive, and became a reality this Spring.
Coming into the season, GCU was feeling confident about their chances of winning the Desert region. The season didn't begin well though. After trailing in Round 1 of the first regional tournament, the team rebounded with an impressive 369 (+12) in the 2nd round to put them in a tie for first place. Yet again, Arizona State won the tiebreaker and took home the 6 qualifying points.
The second and final regional tournament of the season though, they didn't leave it to a tiebreaker. The Lopes cruised to a 22-stroke victory, giving them the regional title and an automatic bid to the NCCGA National Championship. The team was led by Joey Russo, who finished in a tie for 1st place. The victory helped propel them to a #4 ranking in the NCCGA end of season rankings.
"Our team has been out practicing pretty hard,and having fun." Club President Joe Knight said. "A couple our our guys even competed in the Arizona stroke play championship this past weekend at our home course, and Joey Russo made the cut. Our goal is to for sure place in the top 5, and if things go well hopefully win it."
Although the team has never competed at Nationals, they do have nationals experience. Zach Capel (Spring 2016) and Jordan Yamamoto (Fall 2016) have each qualified as individuals, finishing in ties for 8th and 10th, respectively, which earned them both all tournament team honors.
As long as GCU plays near their potential at Hot Springs this coming weekend, they should place in the top 5. All 8 golfers have turned in multiple rounds in the mid to high 70s in tournament play this past year, and they have two of the top golfers in the field on their team. We will see how the Lopes do at Hot Springs as they make their debut at the NCCGA National Championship.