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Golf: West alum Connor Pollman wins DII national title with Lee University
Connor Pollman
West Forsyth alum Connor Pollman helped lead Lee University [Tenn.] to a Division II national championship with a 2-under 70 in the final round of match play against Oklahoma Christian University. Photo courtesy Lee University Athletics

Connor Pollman believes the strongest part of his golf game is his mental fortitude. 

The ability to remain focused and continue chipping away, even when the round isn't necessarily going the way he expected.

He needed that mental toughness at the Division II men's golf national championship on May 20, and he showed why it's one of his strongest attributes.

Pollman, who graduated from West Forsyth in 2017, helped Lee University [Tenn.] to the final round of the national tournament after leading the Flames to match-play wins against Barry University [Fla.] and Georgia Southwestern State University.

There, Pullman was matched against Oklahoma Christian University's Mateo Pulcini, who was named a first-team All-American just two days prior. Because of the match-play structure of the tournament, Pullman would have to card a lower 18-hole score than Pulcini for his team to win a point, with the first team to three points winning the national championship.

Pollman birdied his first hole of the day, but Pulcini followed that with a birdie of his own on hole No. 2. Pollman's next victims were a 577-yard par 5 and a short par 3 — both birdies.

Pollman couldn't have asked for a better start to the round. The only thing is, Pulcini seemed to mirror Pollman at every turn, birdying three of the first four holes too.

"We both got off good starts in the final round," Pollman said. "We were both 3-under through four and I was sitting there on five going like, 'Boy, this is going to be a match today. I can already tell.'"

Pulcini began his advance halfway through the front nine and made the turn three strokes below Pollman, an advantage that lasted through hole No. 13.

But Pollman was solid on the back nine as Pulcini began to unravel, bogeying 14 and 16. 

And by the time the two golfers left the green on hole No. 17, Pollman had turned a one-shot deficit into a one-shot lead heading to the final tee box.

"The mental toughness that it takes to stay in there and believe that you can pull it out, that's one thing that I think our team did really well," Pollman said. "Honestly, that's what I'd say is probably my biggest strength, is mental toughness. Just being mentally strong enough to believe that if I kept playing good golf that it would fall my way. Sometimes that's a hard thing to convince yourself of."

Both golfers ended up in the sand on 18, and their bunker shots left Pollman 10 feet from the pin and Pulcini 40 feet from the pin. 

Pollman could comfortably two-putt to victory unless Pulcini sank his 40-footer.

Of course, that's precisely what Pulcini did.

That put the pressure back on Pollman to save par and avoid a playoff.

"Really, before he putted it, I was still even nervous about two-putting it," Pollman said with a laugh. "Just the amount of nerves you feel trying to win a point for your team on a Friday in the national championship match is pretty nerve-wracking. When he made it, I was just like, 'Holy cow. Now I've got to make mine.'

"I mean, I was standing over that putt and my heart was in my throat just beating, beating, beating. Then when I made it, just a lot of emotion coming out."

Pollman retrieved his ball from the hole, shook Pulcini's hand, then barreled into assistant coach Evan Spence, and the celebration was on.

Pollman finished the round with a 2-under 70 and handed Lee its first win of the afternoon. The Flames earned three more to beat Oklahoma Christian 4-1 and capture the Division II national championship.

"It was a long week, and to make it to Friday is an accomplishment within itself. That week we played eight rounds of golf in seven days. [I was] playing the best golf that I'd really played in my life over the past couple months."

Pollman played multiple sports when he was younger, venturing out to the golf course with his father, Jim, on occasion. 

It wasn't until he attended the 2011 PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club — where Keegan Bradley outlasted Jason Dufner in a three-hole playoff to win — that he dedicated himself to the sport.

"That kind of lit a fire in me about golf," Pollman said. "I was playing other sports at the time, but I sort of put those on the backburner and started going out to the golf course everyday. I made golf my main priority when I got into high school. I was able to play well as a junior player, play well in high school and get a scholarship to Lee."

Pollman led the Wolverines to new heights in high school. The team made its first state championship appearance in 2014, then won its first tournament in program history the following season.

Two years after Pollman graduated from West, his younger brother, Ryan Pollman, helped the Wolverines win the Class 7A state championship, which marked the school's first state title in a boys team sport.

Ryan is a rising junior at Valdosta State University, which plays with Lee University in the Gulf South Conference. 

"We see each other at pretty much every tournament," Connor said. "I'd say eight out of the about 11 or 12 tournaments we play a year I'll see him. But we actually played all three rounds at conference together last year."

Connor edged his younger brother at that tournament, carding a 54-hole score of 6-over 222 to Ryan's 8-over 224, though the two always have next season.

Connor has a few tournaments lined up across the next couple of months, such as the Porter Cup in New York, the Tennessee State Amateur Championship and the Chattanooga Choo Choo Invitational.

He said the magnitude of winning the national championship hit him some time ago, and it has even etched itself to the top of his all-time golf moments.

"I've had some cool moments in golf," Pollman said. "I've hit a couple holes-in-one and I've won a couple of tournaments, but being there for my team when they needed me to step up on a Friday of a national championship — that will rank number one unless we do it again next year."

Photo courtesy Lee University Athletics