Driver's Seat: WWU Sweeps Golf, Team Of The Week
Western Washington's Aidan Thain and Jordan Lee (left) and Megan Billeter and Coach Luke Bennett (right) embrace after clinching the team GNAC Championships. Photos by Shawn Toner.
Western Washington's Aidan Thain and Jordan Lee (left) and Megan Billeter and Coach Luke Bennett (right) embrace after clinching the team GNAC Championships. Photos by Shawn Toner.

Monday, April 25, 2022

PORTLAND, Ore. – On one side was a blowout, featuring record-smashing rounds and total scores. On the other side was a final-day charge to complete a comeback victory. In the end, the men’s and women’s golf teams from Western Washington finished Tuesday in Coeur d’Alene the same way: by hoisting a conference championship trophy and celebrating individual medalists.

The men’s team romped to a 22-stroke team victory and a stunning 16-stroke individual win for senior Aidan Thain, who set an all-time conference 54-hole record with a score of 199. The women, meanwhile, earned the team title for the second consecutive year and had an individual champion in sophomore Elise Sumner despite trailing on both leaderboards at the halfway mark of the tournament. For pulling off a complete sweep of the GNAC Championships, the Vikings’ golf programs have been named GNAC Co-Teams of the Week.

Entering the conference tournament as the No. 1 team in the West Regional, the men’s program left absolutely nothing to chance. The Vikings built a 19-stroke lead on the first day, with all five WWU golfers in the top 15 after 36 holes. With challenging conditions creating higher scores across the board on day two, the team finished with a 54-hole score of 854, 22 strokes ahead of second-place Simon Fraser and nearly 30 strokes up on the third-place team.

The undisputed star of the show was Thain, who rewrote not only the GNAC Championships record book but the all-time GNAC record book as well. Thain carded rounds of 4-under-par 67 and 7-under-par 64 on day one to take an 11-stroke lead into the clubhouse. The round of 64 tied WWU alum Brett Johnson for the lowest round in GNAC Championships history and tied with two additional golfers for the lowest spring season round in conference history.

On Tuesday, Thain shot 3-under-par 68 and was the only golfer in the field to break par through the blustery conditions, extending his final margin to 16 strokes over a trio of golfers that tied for second. In the final round, Thain shot 1-under-par on the back nine and hit par on the final two holes to finish at 199, breaking the previous 54-hole record score of 200 set by WWU alum Jake Koppenberg at the Grand Canyon Invite in 2007.

The rest of the Vikings also performed well. One of the three golfers to tie for second behind Thain was senior Jordan Lee, who finished at 2-over-par 215 with a low of 69 in round two. Freshman Conrad Brown shot consecutive 1-under-par 70s and sat in third after 36 holes, eventually finishing seventh at 6-over-par 219. Senior Devin Andrews made it four Vikings in the top 10, carding consistent scores of 73, 74 and 75 to tie for the 10th position at 9-over-par 222. Freshman Seth King completed WWU’s scoring five, tying for 16th three strokes behind at 225.

“I’m extremely proud of how the guys performed throughout the tournament,” head coach Luke Bennett said. “Each player played a key role in this team victory.”

The women’s victory wasn’t quite as assured after play ended on Monday. Western Washington found itself in a dogfight with Simon Fraser and the Vikings trailed by two strokes in the team portion after the first round while SFU’s Natasha Kozlowski led the charge for the individual medal. But in the difficult conditions Tuesday, the teams went in opposite directions and Western Washington thrived.

Sumner followed up her sixth-place finish in 2021 to take the title by shooting a tournament-low round of 73 on the second day and finishing at 7-over-par 149. Sumner won by two strokes over teammate Dani Bailey, whose day-two 75 matched the second-lowest round of the tournament. Sumner had four pars and a birdie over the last five holes while Bailey closed her round with five consecutive pars.

Junior Megan Billeter, who ended the season with the lowest stroke average in the GNAC, finished tied for fifth at 13-over-par 155. Senior Sarah Shea, who carded a 163 in 13th place, and sophomore Claire Moon, who finished in a tie for 15th at 166, completed the Vikings’ lineup. As a team, Western Washington outshot Simon Fraser by 12 strokes in the final round, turning a narrow deficit into a 10-stroke team win.

“What this team did in the conditions was pretty impressive,” Bennett said. “I am proud of each one of these players and I am so happy they get to extend their season.”

The victories were an important return to form for the WWU men’s program, which has won 10 of the 14 GNAC team titles but had only won once since 2017. Thain became the ninth different Viking to win individual medalist honors at the GNAC Championships.

The women’s program, meanwhile, will seek to start another dynastic run after a long championship drought. The Vikings swept team and individual honors every year from 2011-2015, but had only managed a 2019 individual medal for Lacy Sheldon and a team title in 2021 in the years since before their double victory this year.

Both programs earned the GNAC’s automatic qualifying berth to the NCAA Regionals. The Western Washington men were named the No. 1 seed in the West Region while the women earned the No. 12 seed.