Saint Francis University golf coach Derek Tyson hadn’t exactly given up all hope of winning the Northeast Conference Championship, but he wasn’t about to hold his breath, either.
The 2003 McGuffey High School graduate watched patiently as his team finished up its final round at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla., Sunday, knowing a miracle would be needed for his first season leading the Red Flash to continue.
“We were down five strokes going into the last day,” said the 28-year-old Tyson. “I liked the spot we were in because we were not in the last group. We could finish up and see where everyone else was at. And throughout the day, we got to within a couple of strokes, then were tied for the lead. It see-sawed back and forth.
“But then we finished really badly, or what I thought was really bad, and were 16 strokes off the lead.”
With tournament leader Long Island University still on the course, Tyson sent his players out to get food while he watched the final few holes, hoping to learn something for future reference in his young coaching career.
What he learned was that miracles do happen.
“The first kid had a double (bogey) on 18 and finished 16 and 17 at 5-over,” Tyson said. “The next one took an 8 on 18 and had a double on 17. I kept watching and the lead was dwindling. At that point, I was texting my guys to get back to the course in case we had to have a playoff.”
The playoff wasn’t needed. Not only did Saint Francis win, it did so by four strokes as Long Island completely collapsed, handing Tyson an NEC championship in his first season and sending the Red Flash on to the NCAA Division I tournament.
“It was a surreal moment,” Tyson said of the moment he realized what had happened. “It was all very interesting.”
Not bad for a guy who had no dreams of coaching collegiate golf.
Though Tyson was a professional golf management major at Methodist, where he was also a member of the school’s highly successful NCAA Division III program, Tyson was more than happy working as an assistant pro at Sunnehanna Country Club in Johnstown, where he had interned. Tyson also had served as a volunteer golf coach at nearby Westmont High School and donated time at the Hiram G. Andrews Center for the Blind.
When Nick Wheeler resigned as golf coach at Saint Francis, which is located about 20 miles north of Johnstown in Loretto, Tyson was intrigued. After all, the position also came with a full-time job as head pro at the university-owned Immergrun Golf Club. He was hired last May.
“When the position came open, I figured why not?” Tyson said. “You get to travel around with the team, and it takes some of the boredom out of the everyday duties of just being a golf pro. I’m glad I did.”
Tyson inherited a team that includes a pair of Peters Township graduates, junior Jeff Chastel and freshman Jeremy Merich. They are part of a young team that will head to the NCAA regional in Pullman, Wash., at Washington State University.
That’s right. After spending a weekend in Florida, the Red Flash will head to the other side of the country May 16 to 18 for a regional that includes top-ranked California, TCU, USC, Virginia Tech and BYU among its 14 entrants.
Tyson figures he’s going to have to give a lot of geography lessons when asked where exactly Saint Francis is located.
“Yeah, probably,” he said. “I pretty much had a feeling it was going to happen that way. Cal was No. 1 in the nation all year and I figured we’d get put in their regional. But that’s OK. It’s not normal for us to travel this much. We go to North Carolina every year, but one weekend in Florida and another in Washington is not the norm.”
Then again, if Tyson can keep the Red Flash on a winning track, maybe it will become so.
“We’ve got one junior, two sophomores and two freshmen, so maybe we’ll be back again next year,” Tyson said.
If they are, it would be hard to top the way they punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament this year.