Men’s Golf: ’Dogs take second in Watney’s final Classic

Thirty-five years, 35 Fresno State Lexus Classics.

The final Classic for Fresno State men’s golf coach Mike Watney, who announced he would retire at the end of the season after 35 years at the helm, was not the most dominant showing of the tournament.

But it was one that saw the Bulldogs knock down 13 birdies and an eagle in the final nine holes to pull past No. 44 Brigham Young and No. 28 Northwestern.

Fresno State flirted with shooting under par in its fifth-place finish in the first round, reached that promised land by the end of the second round – where it also took second in the team standings – and then solidified its ground behind first-place Cal in the final round of the two-day, 17-team, 54-hole tournament at the Belmont Country Club.

For the Bulldogs, it was  minimizing bogeys and hitting timely birdies that helped them stave off BYU, which finished third and 5-under par.

Fresno State finished 6-under par (361-355-358—1074).

The final batch of Bulldogs Watney will coach was one he knew had “plenty of birdie power.”

“I am very happy with the team, especially the way the guys finished,” Watney said. “We had slipped back to fifth and then we battled back to overtake BYU.”

Troix Tonkham (68-73-72) finished the tournament 3-under par and tied for ninth place. Tonkham hit three consecutive birdies on Holes 14-16 in the third round, and bogeyed only once in the first round – where he finished 4-under.

“Troix is a tremendous player, and he’s only a freshman,” Watney said. “He has a terrific future. He is really, really good.”

The Classic, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this season, was the Bulldogs’ sole home tournament this season – and Watney’s last hurrah in Fresno.

But it was Cal that took the tournament in dominant fashion. The first-place Golden Bears, top-ranked in the nation, finished 43-under par and 37 strokes ahead of second-place Fresno State.

Watney and the Bulldogs had reached that level of dominance at The Classic before.

In the 2001 Classic, nephew Nick Watney finished 10-under par and Fresno State took the tournament with a total team score of 834 in what Watney said was the “one (Classic) that jumps out at me.”

“We won the tournament by 40 strokes over Stanford, who was second, and you know, the rest of the 16-team field,” he said.

“But when you win by 40 strokes, that was really something. I remember Nick Watney shot a 63 in one of the rounds at Sunnyside, and pretty much nobody could believe it.”

Fresno State will compete in four more tournaments on the road before playing in its first Mountain West Conference Championships on May 3-5 that features No. 4 New Mexico.

“When we play well, we can play with just about anybody,” Watney said. “It’s just that we haven’t been as consistent as some of the other teams.

“That’s our goal in the last four tournaments that we continue to improve, and by the time we get to the conference championship, we’ll be battling for it.”