David Tepe's journey to UC's first Big East golf title was spectacular as much for what occurred outside the ropes as what occurred inside them.
Walking toward the Reunion Resort clubhouse in Orlando, Fla., on Sunday for the first round of the Big East championship golf tournament, UC senior David Tepe turned the corner near the putting green.
Suddenly, he spotted a sprawling group of familiar faces. His mother and father were there, as he expected them to be. As was his grandmother and grandfather, who snowbird in Florida this time of year. As much as their presence brought out open arms, further inspection provided a dropped jaw as well.
Along with them were four brothers from his Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. They secretly hopped in the car and drove 898 miles to surprise him for what could be Tepe's final golf tournament as a Cincinnati Bearcat. Little could any of them have known then their presence provided a major reason it wouldn't be the end.
The crew of eight would be with Tepe every shot of the incredible three-day, 54-hole ride to his crowning career achievement capturing UC's first-ever Big East title in golf and spot in the NCAA Regionals.
"I just couldn't believe they'd made the drive down," Tepe said of David Clark, Jonas Butler, Pat Dryer and Brian Kapcar. "That was something special."
From that moment forward, this tournament felt different than any other Tepe experienced with UC. Remarkably, it concluded with his first major tournament victory since his junior days at Lakota East High School. He'd taken part in dozens of tournaments during his four-year career at UC and even come close to winning, but never held on. Then, here, on his final shot, he couldn't miss.
And with every drive splitting the fairway, every pinpoint approach to the green and every long putt the reaction didn't sound like the standard soft claps and chirping birds associated with college golf tournaments.
"They brought a lot of energy to the golf course, I would say," Tepe said with a laugh suggesting understatement. "A lot more than I would be used to."
He supplied more reasons for excitement then he'd be used to as well. In ripping off three consecutive rounds under par for the first time in his career (69-69-70) he went wire-to-wire to stave off closest competitor Chase Koepka (USF) by one stroke.
The critical moment came on his second-to-last hole of the tournament, when he stood over a 25-foot birdie putt. He'd decided to stay free of tracking the leaderboard all day, but finally broke down before this putt asking his coach Doug Martin if a birdie would help.
Boy, would it.
We'll get back to that in a moment. Next comes the other interesting beyond-the-glory aspect of this story. Tepe found that in recent tournaments where he couldn't quite push over the hump into the top five or even victorious positions the problems fell far more on the mental side than physical.
To counter that he picked up two books the week before the Big East tournament, Putting Out Of Your Mind by renowned putting guru Bob Rotella, as well as Fearless Golf: Conquering the Mental Game by Dr. Gio Valiante.
Fearless Golf preached the importance of patience in attacking the golf course. He gives that patience direct credit for the difference between his past showing and this incredible run.
"That really helped the third day," Tepe said. "Started on 10 and 11 and 14 are birdie holes. I didn't birdie those. But then I birdied 15 and 16. I put myself in similar situations last summer where I tasted the success, but didn't quite finish it off. I think that all comes down to just being patient on the course."
And it eventually came down to his putt on hole 53. As he looked over his putt, Rotella's putting book flashed into his head.
"I read it; I liked the way it looked," Tepe said. "One of the things (the book) talks about is picking a line and sticking with it, don't second guess. Don't try to reread the putt. Just read it once, pick a line and stay committed to it. I picked a line and when I went to address the putt just said, 'All right, head down and get it to the hole.'"
Bottom of the cup.
He felt at that moment the putt might have won the tournament. He was right.
Though, there was no Adam Scott at The Masters moment with primal screams and dog-pile of family and fraternity brothers on the final green.
A first pump followed both his birdie and final putt for par, then he patiently waited 15 minutes in the clubhouse for Koepka to finish. When the win became official a calm celebration with the gathering proceeded. It didn't need to be wild to be meaningful.
"I just kind of gave it a little fist pump and looked at the guys and my family that came down and thanked them all for being there," he said.
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