Andrew Riley didn’t allow himself to think about being a national champion – until he pulled off a championship shot.
The Creekside High graduate and Palm Beach Atlantic sophomore eagled the par-5 14thth hole of the Avalon Lakes Golf Club in Warren, Ohio, after unleashing a 368-yard drive down the right side of the fairway and went on to post a bogey-free 67 to win the NCAA Division II individual championship on Wednesday at 12-under -pair 204.
Riley, the Florida Times-Union high school player of the year in 2020, defeated Jordan Lee of Western Washington by two shots to become the second First Coast resident to win an NCAA individual championship. Jeff Klauk, a Nease graduate, won the Division II title for Florida Southern in 2000.
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Riley also won the first national championship on the NCAA level for PBA in any sport. The Sailfish moved from NAIA to Division II in 2007-08.
“It’s unbelievable… it’s just now starting to set in,” Riley said. “I didn’t really know I was going to win until [No.] 18. I wasn’t really thinking about it most of the day. But when I eagled 14, it put me in a pretty good spot.”
Monster drive set up eagle
Riley hit a wedge from 145 yards out at the 14thth hole and tapped in from 3 feet for a four-shot lead. He lipped out for birdie at Nos. 15, saved par at the 225-yard, par-3 16th on an 8-foot putt after coming up 20 yards short of the green against a fierce wind, lipped out for birdie at No. 17, then unleashed another mammoth drive at the 488-yard, par-4 18th hole to leave himself with just a sand wedge into the green.
He put his second shot in the middle and two-putted.
“I never took my foot off the gas,” he said.
Riley began the day one shot behind Mauricio Figueroa of Texas A&M International (72) at 7-under and took the lead with birdies at Nos. 4, 6 and 11. He hit an 8-iron from 182 yards out at the par-3 fourth, two-putted off the fringe for birdie at the par-5 sixth (he hit a 360-yard drive at the 620-yard hole) and two-putted for birdie at the par-5 11thth hole.
Riley also won the NCAA regional
Riley had 14 birdies and three eagles during the week. It also came two weeks after he shot 62 in the first round and went on to win the Southeast Regional at Grand Oaks in Fort Lauderdale at 12-under.
In between, Riley got some practice putting on ryegrass: he played with his father Kevin and his father’s friend Steve Ritter in the Bridgemill Country Club member-guest north of Atlanta.
“I don’t have a whole lot of experience on grass like you see in the Midwest, and that gave me a lot of confidence,” he said. “We had some fun, won our flight.”
Riley also shot 61 in a casual round with friends to set the course record at the Palm Beach Country Club last week.
“He’s on a bit of a roll,” observed his PBA coach Craig Watson.
Player and coach ‘a great team’
Riley said it could have been a solitary experience competing as an individual (he was the first PBA golfer to reach the NCAA tournament last year) but said he and Watson “made a great team.”
“I wanted to do this for him more than anything,” he said. “He’s been there every step of the way for the last two years. He takes a lot of time with me in practice rounds and on putts. His effort is unmatched. We got stronger together as the week went on.”
Riley said Watson talked him out of at least five club selections during the tournament.
“He was right every time,” he said. “He’s the first national championship coach for Palm Beach Atlantic and that’s just as cool for me as winning it.”
Watson said it wasn’t hard to coach Riley when all facets of his game were in tune.
“There really wasn’t anything he wasn’t doing well,” Watson said. “His iron play was magnificent, and he putted very well on really tricky greens. He hit some shots offline but he always gave himself a reasonable opportunity to move the ball towards the green. When things didn’t go perfectly, they still went right.”
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Andrew Riley of Creekside fires a 67 to win NCAA Division II title