Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
SAINTE-VICTOIRE-DE-SOREL, Que. – Dropping in a four-foot birdie putt on his final hole, Justin Berget made history on Friday at Continental Golf Club-St. Laurent, becoming the first player in MacEwan Griffins golf program history to win an individual medal at a Canadian Colleges Athletic Association tournament.
With a sizzling 2-under 70 in his final round of the 2019 PING CCAA national championship, he captured a silver medal, finishing just one shot behind winner Louis-Alexandre Jobin-Colgan of Champlain St. Lawrence.
"It's just eye-opening knowing that I can compete at that level," said the third-year Commerce student-athlete from Spruce Grove, Alta. "I didn't really know how I was going to compare to everybody else in Canada.
"I'm honoured and humbled to be able to accomplish something like that."
MacEwan head coach Jodi Campbell had a women's team win a bronze medal in 2012 at the nationals, but never before has any one of his talented players made the podium individually, even though the program has won 18 Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference team banners.
"This is a huge accomplishment for our team," he said. "With as much success as we've enjoyed, getting on the podium at the national championships has always eluded us.
"In saying that, the competition is extremely high, which tells you how much of an accomplishment it is to have a player not only get silver, but he had a shot to tie for the lead and go to a playoff. Of all the players who've come through this tournament over the years, for us to finally get a silver medal is huge."
Knocking down birdies on his final two holes, Berget nearly pushed Jobin-Colgan to a playoff for the individual title.
"My 18th hole, but hole 9 (after starting on 10), I thought I was one back," explained the 2019 ACAC champion. "I think I found out in the middle of the fairway that I was two back. The leader birdied his last hole."
With Campbell nearby, they discussed his approach into the 515-yard Par-5 ninth green – a risky shot down a narrow tree-lined fairway with water to the left of the green. Luckily, he bombed the drive and was in striking distance.
"He's sitting there saying 'I think I've got to go for it,' " recounted Campbell. "I said, 'let's play to win.' "
Berget's approach found the fringe, which meant he needed to hole an eagle chip to force a playoff, which would have been among the most dramatic ways to win a golf tournament.
"It came up just short," said Berget. "I didn't really give it a good run. I was mad."
However, amid a memorable ceremony where he received a silver medal and a glass all-star trophy, and his phone continued to buzz with post-round congratulations, anger turned to pride as the magnitude of the accomplishment began to sink in.
"It was a cool experience," said the Stony Plain Golf Club product. "I'm thankful to everyone who supported me. I was getting a lot of texts from family, friends. Whether they were from here or back home, it was quite nice to get on my phone after and see everyone was watching."
Noting that hit the ball solid all week and had the flat stick rolling, too, Berget finished 1-over (73-74-70) for a tournament shortened to three rounds after Thursday's play was cancelled due to a deluge of rain and high winds.
"Justin absolutely played so amazing," said Campbell. "He hit it great off the tee, he hit some really great approach shots, his putter was hot all day and even when he did get into trouble, he was able to save it. Everything was firing.
"I guess the most impressive part of it is it's hard winning a golf tournament and the amount of pressure that a player feels when they're in it is extreme. Still being able to perform at a high level just goes to show how mentally tough he was to just stick with the process and just play one shot at a time."
Justin Berget noted his putter was strong all week, leading him to a second-place finish at the PING CCAA national championship (Robert Antoniuk photo).
Despite Berget's heroics on Friday, the Griffins were too far back to get into the team medals. They finished seventh with a 935 total, well back of winner Champlain St. Lawrence (892), who beat host Boomerang d'André Larendeau (894) and Humber (905) for the title.
"We had one bad day in the middle there where everything seemed to go wrong with us," said Campbell of the team finish, which, on the positive side, was 27 shots better than ACAC champion Medicine Hat. "Unfortunately, it set us back. We were in the middle of the pack.
"So, we were really motivated to leapfrog some teams today and we managed to move past two teams today, which was huge," he added. "We managed to get into seventh. Our goal was to get into the top five, but it was great to see everybody bounce back today."
Noah Lubberding suffered a bout of food poisoning and couldn't play Friday's final round, forcing the remaining four players on the Griffins into a pressure situation where every shot counted (normally teams have five players and count the top four scores on each hole).
Stephen Christenson saved his best round for last, going 82-79-75 to finish T32nd at 20-over, while fellow rookies Blake Caron (81-85-77) tied for 44th and Nate Gerhardt (T52nd - 81-87-81) rounded out MacEwan's finish.