LAKELAND, FLA. – One of the most prestigious college golf tournaments in the country begins Monday morning at Lone Palm Golf Club where 15 teams take the course for the 38th annual Matlock Collegiate Classic. Annually attracting the best men's golf programs in NCAA Division II, the tournament is named after former Florida Southern College golf coach Charley Matlock, an inaugural inductee into the school's athletic hall of fame and member of the Golf Coaches Association of America Hall of Fame.
This is the 12th year in a row the tournament will be played at Lone Palm, and the 75 golfers will play a par-72 course covering 7,065 yards. After a practice round on Sunday, the tournament officially begins with a shotgun start Monday morning at 8:30 a.m. The second round will be played immediately afterwards, with the same pre-determined pairings. In Tuesday's final round, teams and players will be grouped according to their standing in the tournament. The top four individual scores in each round count toward the team score.
Complete pairings and individual tee times for the first two rounds will be available Sunday afternoon, though Florida Southern will play with West Florida and Barry in the first two rounds. Those five groups tee off holes one through three. Live results will be available throughout the tournament through Golfstat.
The Matlock is normally the first tournament of the spring for the participating teams, and often serves as a preview for the NCAA regional and national tournaments that take place in May. This year's field features seven teams ranked in the top-10 of Bushnell Division II coaches' poll, including all of the top six. Nine of the 15 competing teams are nationally-ranked, and four others are among those receiving votes.
The tournament also has eight of the top-10 teams from last year's NCAA Division II South/Southeast Super Regional, five of the eight teams that advanced to medal play at the national finals, and all four of last year's national semifinalists. That group includes Division II national champion Lynn, runner-up West Florida, Florida Southern, and Barry. Altogether, every Division II champion this decade will be playing at this weeks' Matlock Collegiate Classic, the only tournament anywhere in the country that can claim such a distinction. Those teams are Florida Southern (2010 and 2017), Cal State-Monterey Bay (2011), Nova Southeastern (2012 and 2015), Barry (2013 and 2014), Saint Leo (2016), and Lynn (2018).
Headlining the teams in this year's Matlock Classic are No. 1 Barry, No. 2 Lynn, No. 3 Florida Tech, No. 4 Saint Leo, No. 5 West Florida, No. 6 Florida Southern, and No. 10 Nova Southeastern. Limestone (S.C.) is ranked No. 13, and Rollins is No. 18. Cal State-Monterey Bay, Georgia College, Valdosta State, and Columbus State (Ga.) are receiving votes in the latest Division II national poll. Completing the field are Eckerd and Montevallo (Ala.).
Twelve of the teams playing in this year's Matlock also played in last year's event, and all three that did not are playing in it for the first time. Making their first appearance at the Matlock are Cal State-Monterey Bay, Limestone, and Montevallo. The Otters of CSUMB are only the second school from the West Coast to play in the Matlock, joining Stanford, which did so in 1987 and 2001.
Other than Florida Southern, Columbus State has the most appearances with this year being the Cougars' 25th. Valdosta State is making its 20th appearance, having played in every Matlock Classic since 1999.
The Moccasins have won their own tournament eight times, including last year. It was their fourth Matlock title since it became a strictly Division II tournament in 2005. West Florida is the only other school to win more than once since then, taking the trophy back to Pensacola in 2011 and 2017. Florida Southern, Barry, and West Florida, have been the most successful teams in recent years at the Matlock with the Moccasins and Buccaneers each placing in the top-three eight times, and the Argonauts doing that seven. Last year it was a 1-2-3 finish with all three teams at -20 or better, and the Moccasins winning by six shots over the Buccaneers.
A school from the Sunshine State Conference has won the Matlock title six of the last seven years, another indicator of the league's dominance in men's golf. Those six Matlock championships have come from six different schools too: Florida Tech (2012), Barry (2013), Lynn (2014), Nova Southeastern (2015), Saint Leo (2016), and Florida Southern (2018). West Florida from the Gulf South Conference won in 2017, and is one of only two non-SSC schools to finish in the top-three the last seven years. The Argos have done that three times, while Armstrong State did so once.
Last year's Matlock Classic saw nine teams break par, the most since 1989, and Florida Southern's winning score of -29 was the second lowest in tournament history. Barry's -23 was the best score ever turned in by a tournament runner-up, and West Florida's -20 would have won the Matlock 30 of the first 36 years. However, four of the last six years have seen the winning team shoot -26 or better, led by West Florida's tournament-record -34 two years ago.
Florida Southern will have a vastly different look from the team that won last year's Matlock. Three of the five Moccasins who played are now gone, including current pros John Coultas and John VanDerLaan. Coultas won the last two Matlock individual titles with two of three lowest scores in the tournament's long history (-14 as a junior and -15 last year as a senior), and VanDerLaan had four top-10 finishes in the event during his career. Also among the departed is retired hall of fame coach Doug Gordin, who won six Matlock titles in his tenure, more than any other coach.
Leading Florida Southern now is former Moccasin golfer Lee White, who played in the Matlock for Gordin in 2011 and 2012. Among their results in the fall was a runner-up finish at the Cougar Invitational in Columbus, Georgia where they defeated six of the same teams they'll face again at the Matlock.
Even with the departure of three members of last year's Matlock-winning lineup, White will still field a team with three Matlock veterans. Junior Chase Ibbotson has played in each of the last two, senior Michael VanDerLaan played as a freshman and sophomore, and senior Christian Anderson was part of last year's winning team. They hope to make Florida Southern the first team to capture the Matlock trophy in back-to-back seasons since the Moccasins did that in 2006.
VanDerLaan, who was an All-South Region selection last season, was Florida Southern's team leader in the fall with a 73.00 stroke average and six par or under-par rounds. His team-best five-under-par 208 paced the Mocs in their second-place finish at Columbus where he tied for fourth, and he's coming off an 11th-place finish at the Otter Invitational in California.
Among the returners, Anderson was the Moccasins' top finisher at last year's Matlock Classic when he shot an even-par 216 to tie for 28th. He's played in more tournaments than any other Moccasin over the last four years, has a 74.50 stroke average this season, and is coming off his best performance of the fall when he tied with VanDerLaan for 11th place at the Otter Invitational.
Along with the two seniors, Ibbotson was a big part of the team's national championship in 2017. This year, his best tournament was the Cougar Invitational where he shot a four-under-par 209 to tie for sixth in a field of 90 golfers, and in his final three outings of the fall had six rounds of 73 or better.
Coutsolioutsos is the only one of Florida Southern's six freshmen to play in every tournament during the fall, and turned in a 74.58 stroke average. His best performance came in Columbus at the Cougar Invitational with a four-over-par 217 that had tied for 34th in the field of 90, and he was 39th out of 91 golfers at the most recent Otter Invitational.
Wright will be making just his second appearance of the season, and his first since the Rod Myers Invitational in early September. He had an overall score of 228 in that tournament, but shot a 74 in two of his three rounds.