It was there for the taking.
At times, it looked like many in the 14-team field at the NCAA Albuquerque Regional men’s golf tournament were handing the University of New Mexico a top-5 spot on its home course on Wednesday.
The Lobos, however, kept dropping it — and shots — on the way to a tie for seventh place and the end of their season.
Arizona State won the 54-hole event at the UNM Championship Golf Course with 12-over-par 876 while TCU was second at 24 over. USC (31 over) was third, followed by South Florida (35 over).
San Diego State and Texas A&M were 40 over and the Aztecs beat A&M on a wild first playoff hole. The top five advance to the NCAA Championships May 27-June 1 in Eugene, Ore.
“It was an amazing opportunity, and we just let it go,” said New Mexico sophomore Gustavo Morantes, who closed with his team’s low round of 3-over 75 and finished tied for 22nd individually at 11 over. “We got a lot of help from the other teams. They were giving it to us. When we were about to start the tournament, I never thought we would have a score like this. It just sucks.”
The Lobos shot a 14-over par 302 in the final round for a 43-over 907, tied with Texas Tech.
They entered the round tied for sixth with San Diego State and two shots behind fifth-place A&M. Texas Tech started in eighth two shots behind UNM and SDSU.
After two days of cold and wind, it was the rain’s turn to make for miserable conditions on Wednesday. The field responded with more high scores, and the Lobos were within a shot or two of fifth place most of the day.
UNM, playing with Texas Tech and Liberty in its groups, was one of four teams within a shot of fifth place late in its round. But the Lobos stumbled, despite what looked to be a huge birdie from junior Andrej Bevins on the last hole (No. 9).
“I knew I had to have a good finish, but I was horrible on our front side,” said Bevins, who closed with a 76 and tied for 13th individually at 9 over. “I grinded my butt off on our back side to shoot even, which wasn’t bad with the conditions. But it’s just very disappointing.
“I knew we were right around the bubble the whole day. Sometimes you come short, but it definitely wasn’t a lack of effort.”
ASU’s Jon Rham, the world’s top-ranked amateur, won the individual title with scores of 69-71-72 for a 4-under 212. USC’s Sean Crocker was second at 1 over with TCU teammates Paul Barjon and Ryan Books tied for third at 2 over.
The other Lobos were: freshman Sam Kim (73-81-77), tied for 37th; sophomore Andre Garcia (82-77-74), tied for 43rd; and freshman Sean Carlon (73-84-78), tied for 49th.
The top four scores each day counted toward that day’s team total.
The Lobos had a team meeting for about 30 minutes after finishing play, and all said they will use the experience — and disappointment — during next season.
“It will hurt for a little bit, that’s for sure,” Bevins said. “We learned some things we need to improve on. It will be added for motivation next year.”
UNM coach Glen Millican, who had just one senior on his entire roster — Joseph Abella, who missed much of the season with injury — said, “The way we played this week doesn’t take away from the way we played all season. They played under a tremendous amount of pressure all spring just to make regionals, because we had such a rough fall.
“We’re not going to dwell on it, but at the same time we need to remember how it feels to miss by so close. There’s no way to make it sound better than it is. It just feels terrible.”
ALBATROSS: San Diego State beat Texas A&M on the first playoff hole — No. 1, a 544-yard par 5. The Aztecs got an eagle from Ryann Ree and the rarest of all scores in golf — a double-eagle 2, also called an albatross, from Gunn Yang.
SDSU played the hole 5 under (with the top four scores counting) while the Aggies were 2 under with two birdies and three pars.
Ree finished ninth individually at 6 over, and Yang was 10th at 7 over.