Hopkins, Kirkwood prevail in juco national preview

Jon Hopkins, of Mississippi Gulf Coast, wins the NJCAA Division II National Preview on Tuesday at Twin Hills Golf and Country Club. Courtesy Shaun Buck | Joplin Sports Authority

Jon Hopkins, a sophomore from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, has been unbeatable on the golf course the past five days.

Hopkins, from England, made par on the third playoff hole to earn medalist honors in the NJCAA Division II National Preview that ended Tuesday afternoon at Twin Hills Golf and Country Club.

Hopkins and Ben Epperly from Kirkwood (Iowa) were tied at 1-under-par 215 after 54 holes. Epperly was the tournament leader after Monday’s two rounds at 3-under-par 141, and Hopkins was third two shots back.

The playoff was held on the par-3 18th hole, stretched back to 198 yards. Hopkins made par all three times, and Epperly missed a 10-foot par putt on the third extra hole that would have extended the match.

“It actually was about the same putt I’ve hit three times before that,” said Epperly, who had a final-round 2-over 74. “So it was a little frustrating that I didn’t make that. But oh well.”

Hopkins, who closed with a 72, saved par from the bunker left of the green on the first playoff hole and from short of the green on the second hole. He switched from a 7-iron to a 6-iron on the third time and hit the green for a two-putt par.

“Honestly I enjoy playoffs,” Hopkins said. “I like the pressure of them. I think it makes me play better. Three consistent holes for easy pars ... so I enjoyed the playoff.”

The tournament title was Hopkins’ second in less than a week. He shot a 3-under 141 last Friday and Saturday to win the Itawamba Fall Invitational, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast team posted its eighth consecutive victory in a Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges event.

Kirkwood, ranked No. 3 in the preseason poll, claimed team honors at Twin Hills, leading from start to finish for an 893 total after rounds of 297-296-300. The Eagles have three first places and a third in four tournaments this fall.

No. 2-ranked Mississippi Gulf Coast was second at 917, 10 shots ahead of third-place and No. 10 Mesa (Arizona). Mississippi Gulf Coast has two firsts and two seconds in its four starts.

“Old-school country club, great greens, the course was absolutely fantastic,” said Brad Thornton, assistant coach at MGC. “The host facility, Joplin Sports Authority, everybody here was first class. I don’t this (course) gives anybody an advantage. I think it gives the best golfer a chance to win a national championship.

“I think we have a lot of adjustments to make. We got punched in the mouth a little bit out here. I don’t think we took the course as serious as maybe we thought it could play, but it showed its teeth the last two days. I think our buys will make an adjustment in the next couple of months.”

The top individual finishers also gave the course a glowing endorsement.

“Honestly, I really like the course,” Hopkins said. “Being from England, it feels like home just because it’s so tight. I think it really separates the good golfers from the bad golfers. You have to hit fairways around here. The rough is thick, and the greens are fast. I do like fast greens. They are nice to play on.”

“I really like the course,” Epperly said. “It’s a very nice course, very well maintained. I like how it kind of forces you to hit every kind of shot. You can’t just go and hit a draw on every hole. You have to work the ball both ways, which is nice.”

“Unbelievable, it’s really fun,” said Trey Fessler from Mesa. “I’m from up north (Minnesota), so I absolutely love tree-lined golf. The greens were perfect and so fast. They are really fun to play.”

Fessler, who committed to Nebraska until the Cornhuskers changed coaches, finished third at par-216. He made a tournament-high 17 birdies — five more than Epperly and seven more than Hopkins.

Trace Jacobson, of Iowa Lakes, was fourth at 226, and a logjam at 227 involved Dylan Ellis and Noah Hartman, of Des Moines Area CC, and James Norman, Jacob Harrington-Wara and Sebastian Carranza, all from Kirkwood.

The 10 teams hope to return to Twin Hills next May for the national tournament.

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