Florida Southern junior John Coultas has amassed enough personal accolades in his college career to fill any regular sized trophy case, but he’s going to have to make some more room.
The 2016 Jack Nicklaus Award presented by Barbasol as the NCAA Division II Player of the Year, a two-time PING First Team All-American, and the Phil Mickelson Outstanding Freshman Award are only three of the laundry list of awards he has received. There is one trophy that had alluded him thus far, the National Championship.
“When you win a tournament, it’s exciting but then you don’t really get to celebrate with the entire team,” Coultas said.
“Having that ability to do it with the team to get a National Championship is unreal.”
Florida Southern was highly ranked all season, they were fourth in the Bushnell/Golfweek Coaches Poll coming into nationals, but by no means were they the favorite. A roller coaster season brought success and struggle to the Moccasins.
“Going into the National Championship we had kind of had an up and down season,” Coultas said. “We would win a tournament and then the next week we wouldn’t play too well.”
Their spring season included just one first-place finish at the Panther Invitational on March 4th. In each of their five other tournaments before the Southeast Regional, including the Sunshine State Conference Championship, Florida Southern finished behind Lynn University. In the Southeast Regional, Florida Southern finished in second place to qualify for the National Championship. Coultas and the Moccasins would go on to face Lynn in the final round of the National Championship.
“Right after Regionals is kind of where we caught our stride. John VanDerLaan has been playing well throughout the spring and we started getting some good consistent production from our three, four and five guys,” Coultas said. “And going in to national week we all had the mindset that we could do this.”
Coultas, a Co-Captain this year along with fellow junior VanDerLaan, wanted to lead his team to new heights after losing in the semi-final round to Lynn last year at Green Valley Ranch Golf Club in Denver, Colorado.
“For me personally I felt like it was more endurance. You kind of get mentally exhausted and make a few dumb mistakes,” Coultas said. “I was able to draw back on my experience of being drained but still being able to focus and go through your routine effectively.”
Florida Southern defeated West Florida in the semi-final match after more solid play from Coultas and VanDerLaan, who won their matches by a combined sixteen strokes to book a place in the final against Lynn.
The final was set up for drama. Florida Southern facing off against their Sunshine State Conference rival and the team that knocked them out of nationals last year in Lynn. For Lynn, they were chasing their first National Championship after having been in the final four of the last six years. Every match was close and it became apparent that it would go down to the wire for all five of the matchups. By the time Coultas walked up to the eighteenth tee, he knew that he had the chance to be a part of something special.
“I didn’t pay too much attention to our matches throughout the round,” Coultas said. “It wasn’t until I walked off seventeen green that my coach came up to me and said ‘you win this match, we win the National Championship.’ My heart definitely skipped a beat at first, but I kind of just went back and focused on my pre-shot routine and all the training I’ve been through to get it done.”
Coultas finished off Manuel Torres with a par on eighteen to win the match by three strokes to give Florida Southern their thirteenth National Championship. He doesn’t get too much time to rest and enjoy his victory, however, because he is one of the ten Americans who have been selected to represent the United States in the 2017 Arnold Palmer Cup at Atlanta Athletic Club. This will be the first time the event will be played since Mr. Palmer passed away.
“I mean obviously it’s an extreme honor to play in an event that bears Arnold Palmer’s name,” Coultas said. “What he did for the game is truly incredible and I might not be playing it right now if it wasn’t for what he did and what he accomplished and how he revolutionized.”
Coultas and Team USA will be looking to take the cup back from Team Europe who won defeated the Americans 18.5-11.5 at Formby Golf Club in Formby, England last year. The USA leads the all-time series 10-9-1.