FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Billy Tom Sargent is taking the Red Towel somewhere it’s never been this week.
The Western Kentucky University redshirt senior will become the first Hilltopper to ever compete in the NCAA Championships when he tees off Friday at Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
“I just want to represent the school,” Sargent said. “The golf team here is growing, and it continues to grow, and it has a really bright future. It’s just kind of putting Western on the map a little bit more and taking it to nationals and just play the best I can.”
Sargent reached the 2019 NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championships by earning the lone individual berth out of the Athens (Ga.) Regional.
To do so, he needed a dramatic finish.
Trailing by two shots with two holes to play, Sargent went birdie-birdie on his way into the clubhouse to force a playoff, then beat Nevada’s Stephen Osborne on the third playoff hole by sinking a 30-foot par putt.
Sargent punched his ticket to Arkansas as the highest individual not on an advancing team. He’s the only Conference USA representative in the championship field.
“One thing I have learned from Billy Tom this season is he is one of those players that can kind of handle the moment,” WKU head coach Chan Metts said. “He kind of likes to watch the scoreboard. It kind of helps him be able to focus and create a plan moving forward when he knows how he stands.”
Sargent will be among the 156 participants in the field at the par-72, 7,550-yard Blessings Golf Club, which was also the host for the women’s NCAA Championships.
Players will participate in three days of stroke play on Friday through Sunday, after which the top 15 teams and nine individuals not on an advancing team will be determined. That is followed by a final day of 18 holes of stroke play on Monday to determine the top eight teams that will advance to match play as well as the 72-hole individual champion.
Sargent’s first round is scheduled to begin at 9:02 a.m. CT Friday. His second round is slated to start at 2:22 p.m. Saturday.
“I’m really excited and just trying not to think about it too much this week,” Sargent said. “Just practicing and getting my game sharp and looking forward to getting down there. … I’m just looking to go down there, have fun and play the best golf I possibly can.”
Sargent was already the first Hilltopper to ever compete in multiple NCAA Regionals as an at-large individual, and he’ll now break new ground again at the NCAA Championships.
It’s been a special final season for the fifth-year senior, and Metts said it’s been a special experience to coach one of the best to ever play for the Hilltoppers in his first year at the helm.
“I can’t say enough good things about him this season,” Metts said. “I have said it over and over, him and actually Stuart (Easton) and Blake (Smith) – our other seniors that we are losing this year – those guys have been unbelievable leaders. Anybody that is around those three guys for more than a couple of minutes, it is impossible not to pull for them.
“Billy Tom is certainly no different. He’s been an unbelievable leader this year. He’s set such a great example day in and day out, whether it’s on the golf course or in the gym. He’s that kind of guy you want leading your team.”