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Vanderbilt’s Gordon Sargent may take the PGA Tour by storm. But another NCAA title looms first

The brand-new golf club was in two pieces. Two 9-year-old boys were near tears, if not in them.

Vanderbilt sophomore golfer Gordon Sargent and his buddy Braxton had no choice but to tell about themselves that evening 10 years ago.

At Sargent’s behest, his family had sandwiched a spring vacation to California around a visit to an equipment manufacturer there. Sargent had told his parents he wanted to be fitted for some new clubs, just like the pros he now aspires to be.

Not long after the family returned to their Alabama home, Sargent’s new clubs arrived. He couldn’t wait to try them out. As dusk approached that evening, after swimming and hitting some golf balls, the boys approached their parents with the bad news:

Braxton had tried out Sargent’s new driver, which slipped out of his hand and met its fate against a clubhouse wall.

“His friend, who was a Fred Flintstone kind of kid, was stronger than he probably realized,” Gordon’s father Seth Sargent said. “He was probably twice Gordon’s size. … I’ll never forget the look on his face.

“Gordon was upset. Braxton was just as upset because they broke this thing. These two little 9-year-old kids, they looked like Mutt and Jeff together.”

Gordon Sargent had a tournament the next day, so Seth Sargent phoned the manufacturer to order a new shaft. But not before spilling some laughs.

Spotlight’s on Gordon Sargent

Gordon Sargent is 19 years old now, a sophomore in college with an NCAA championship and a Masters appearance to his name. He’s also the reluctant headliner of a Vanderbilt men’s golf team that is ranked No. 1 by Golfweek and will play for an NCAA team championship beginning Friday at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz.

There, Sargent, the top-ranked collegiate player in the nation, is favored to win his second consecutive individual NCAA title after becoming the first freshman to win one since 2007. Not that you’d hear much from the economics major’s mouth about the topic .

Apr 4, 2023; Augusta, Georgia, USA; Gordon Sargent talks with his caddy, William Kane, on the ninth green during a practice round for The Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Network

He’s chosen to let his play do the talking lately, like when he birdied five of the final nine holes last week during the Auburn Regional, moving from 19th place into a tie for seventh to finish 2-under. He’s chosen to avoid talking about himself publicly, and instead focused on being a teammate and a teenaged college kid and not so much the world’s No. 2-ranked amateur.

“We have a superstar on our team, and he’s earned the right to be called that,” Vanderbilt coach Scott Limbaugh said. “He enjoys the safety of a team, a protection mechanism of having people around him that help him manage everything.

“The dude hasn’t finished worse than eighth this entire year.”

That 6-foot, 180-pound dude also has more than made up for that driver his friend broke all those years ago.

These days, Sargent mixes violence with grace, marries art to science and adds a healthy helping of precision with the club. He averaged 323.5 yards per drive during the first round of the Masters, good enough for third in the field of pro golf’s first major championship of the season. His ball speed was measured at 197 mph in January.

He tied a course record at Sawgrass Country Club during the second round of the John Hayt Invitational, where he shot a 64.

And he’s still an amateur, the first since 2000 to earn a special invite to the Masters.

“When you watch him hit is sometimes, like at the practice round when he was playing with Rory (McIlroy) and Brooks (Koepka) and he’s hitting it 20 (yards) past Rory every hole — he’s the best driver in the world,” Limbaugh said. “That’s a little bit eye-popping.”

He doesn’t live in his own world

The “ooohhs” and “ahhhhs” have been oozing from the outside for some time, such as in 2019 when Sargent won the Alabama Golf Association’s junior boys title by six shots and shot a 64 in the second round. Or when he won two consecutive state amateur titles in Alabama, including a tournament-record 24-under in 2020.

The pomp and circumstance did little for Sargent, who was described by his father and teammates as “stoic.”

“He never really stands out or does too much,” Vanderbilt senior Matthew Riedel said. “He’s very light-hearted, very easygoing. It’s not like he lives in his own world.”

Even though there are many times he plays like he’s in his own world. Even though the kid from Birmingham, Ala., owns the most victories — five — in the history of Vanderbilt men’s golf.

“He never really thinks too much of himself, which is nice when you hang around with him and have people asking him about how good a player he is and how much of a stud he is. He’s very down to earth.”

“That’s the crux of it,” Seth Sargent said. “He doesn’t necessarily love being recognized or doted on. If his team is successful, that’s what he wants.”

Vanderbilt fell to eventual champion Texas in a semifinal of the NCAA championships last year.

Who is this guy?

Gordon Sargent must have been in his element at the Masters in early April, then.

There he was neither doted on nor recognized before missing the cut.

While on The Back of the Range podcast after the Masters, Sargent shared several examples of being humbled, which he appreciated. When he asked someone in the pro shop when he could play the next day, the person informed him he’d need his badge. Then, he said on the podcast, he was eyed by a couple of security guards.

“I’m like, ‘Hey, can I go to player dining?'” Sargent recalled. “They’re like, ‘You got your badge on you?’ I pull it out, and they’re like, ‘Is that a player one?’ and they kind of eye it down and figure out what it is.”

He added that some looked at him as if he were in the drive, chip and putt competition, which is reserved for kids 7-15 years old.

Sargent figures to have no such issues at the NCAA championships, not that he would mind.

“He’s a little introverted,” Vanderbilt senior William Moll said. “He’s perfectly content just sitting on his couch watching golf all day.”

Watching golf — something people might be sitting on their couches watching Gordon Sargent do some day.

FITTING RIGHT IN: Why Vanderbilt golf coach said Gordon Sargent ‘looks like he belongs’ at the 2023 Masters

GORDON WHO? Vanderbilt’s Gordon Sargent keeps having to explain himself at Augusta National

CALL TO BALL: How Vanderbilt golfer Gordon Sargent found out he would play in The Masters

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Vanderbilt’s Gordon Sargent chases repeat NCAA title, next PGA star

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