Wonder Boys Men’s Golf Team Reaches the Pinnacle
For the first time ever, the Wonder Boys are national champions.
Andre Jacobs’ one-stroke victory in the fifth and final match of the day gave the Arkansas Tech University men’s golf team a 3-2 victory over Georgia Southwestern University in the finals of the 2021 NCAA Division II Championships on Friday, May 21.
“It was relief, excitement and pure joy,” said Luke Calcatera, ATU head men’s golf coach. “I felt it for myself, but more so for these guys who have worked so hard and for the alumni who came before them and got the train rolling. It’s an incredible moment we’re going to remember forever.”
It is the first collegiate national golf championship won by a team from Arkansas and ATU’s third national title in any sport. The Golden Suns basketball program won back-to-back NAIA national championships in 1992 and 1993.
The 2020-21 Wonder Boys golf team won the Great American Conference championship and advanced through regional competition, 54 holes of stroke play at the national tournament and matches against the University of Central Missouri and the University of West Florida to reach the championship match at PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
The first four matches of the day had been split—two wins for Arkansas Tech and two for Georgia Southwestern. The national title rested on Andre Jacobs’ shoulders. His match was tied with two holes remaining when he stepped to the par-3 17th tee at approximately 1:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.
In that moment, Jacobs’ 9-iron represented the hopes and dreams of generations of Wonder Boys coaches and student-athletes who had worked, sacrificed and strived in pursuit of the ultimate achievement in college athletics.
Men like Sam Hindsman, who joined the Arkansas Tech coaching staff in 1947. He recruited Don Sevier, who played on Hindsman’s NAIA National Tournament semifinal basketball teams in 1954 and 1955 and was later an assistant coach under Don Dempsey when the Wonder Boys reached the 1971 NAIA national championship football game.
Sevier later became director of athletics and hired Marty Barnes as head men’s basketball coach in 1987. Barnes brought Dave Falconer with him as his assistant coach. Together, they took the Wonder Boys back to the NAIA National Tournament semifinals in 1995.
Falconer also served as head men’s golf coach at Arkansas Tech. He led the Wonder Boys to four Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference titles (1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995), three berths in the NAIA National Tournament (1993, 1994 and 1995), the 2004 Gulf South Conference championship and seven appearances in NCAA Division II postseason competition (1998, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010).
That 2004 GSC title team included a tall, left-handed sophomore from McKinney, Texas, named Luke Calcatera. He succeeded Falconer as ATU head men’s golf coach in 2011. A decade later, Calcatera was standing beside Jacobs as they strategized the fateful tee shot on the 17th hole.
The plan was to keep the ball low and aim for the middle of the green, but a left-to-right wind carried Jacobs’ ball closer and closer to the hole location.
“He flagged it all the way to the back,” said Calcatera when asked about Jacobs’ tee shot on No. 17. “Purely an aggressive, miraculous shot.”
It came to rest seven feet away, and when he rolled in the birdie putt to take a two-stroke lead to the final hole, Jacobs let loose with a fist pump more than 100 years in the making.
He held on to win by a single stroke, and the hopes and dreams of Hindsman, Sevier, Dempsey, Barnes, Falconer, Calcatera and so many other coaches, student-athletes, students, alumni and fans finally came true.
The circle was complete. The ultimate goal had been achieved. The Wonder Boys were national champions.
“You could just tell in the way that they felt, our guys were prepared,” said Calcatera. “I have five really talented leaders who can play against anyone. They got it done.”
Jacobs, a sophomore from League City, Texas, was joined on Arkansas Tech’s active roster at the national finals by freshman Santiago De La Fuente of Mexico City, Mexico, freshman Henry Frizzell of Frisco, Texas, senior Austin Gean of Florence, Ala., and sophomore Francois Jacobs of League City, Texas. Sophomore Trevor Brunson of Lowell was the alternate. Adam Anderson, a 2011 graduate of Arkansas Tech, served as volunteer assistant coach.
Together, they became the fourth consecutive Wonder Boys golf team to qualify for match play at the national tournament. Arkansas Tech advanced to the national semifinals in 2017 and reached the national quarterfinals in 2018 and 2019. There was no tournament in 2020 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Gean was a member of ATU’s national quarterfinalist teams in 2018 and 2019.
“It’s about the chemistry that [Calcatera] brings to everybody,” said Gean. “He brings everybody together and he allows you to be yourself. It brings out the best in each of us.”
When the Wonder Boys returned home on Saturday, May 22, they learned just how much their achievement meant to the Arkansas Tech community.
More than 100 students, faculty, staff, alumni and community supporters were standing in the Tucker Coliseum parking lot when the ATU van—complete with an escort from the ATU Department of Public Safety—returned to campus. Confetti poppers were fired. Cheers rang out. Hugs, high fives and tears of joy were exchanged.
“It means everything,” said Gean. “All the hard work we’ve put in…we always believed that we could do it. To actually do it is pretty unreal. For years to come, I’m going to go back and look at pictures and probably tear up a little bit. It will always bring chills to me. That’s for sure. This is the only reason I came back. I had already exceeded my individual goals for college golf, but I wanted to come back for one more year to get a team national championship. You can’t end it any better way than that.”
-By Sam Strasner
for the Tech Action, Fall 2021