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Pepperdine Places Pox on Competition

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Leave it to a golf coach to discover a cure for chickenpox.

With Pepperdine golf Coach John Geiberger covered with chickenpox and confined to his hotel room, the Waves fended off a furious final-round charge by Wake Forest and upset a field of the finest teams in the nation to win the NCAA championships Saturday at Conway Farms Country Club in Lake Forest, Ill.

Assistant coach and former player Kevin Marsh took over as acting coach for the Waves, who shot a four-round total of 12-over par 1,148. Wake Forest shot a tournament-best nine-under 279 in the final round but finished three strokes back.

It is the first national championship in golf for Pepperdine, which has appeared in the NCAA championships three times but hadn’t previously made the cut.

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“It’s awesome,” said Geiberger, who contracted chickenpox Tuesday, the day after he arrived in the Chicago area. “It was a tough week to miss but to tell you the truth, I was pretty sick all week.

“But I feel great now. I’m chowing on a steak and I have the trophy here so I must be OK.”

Jason Gore, a Pepperdine senior and Hart High graduate, led the Waves with a four-round total of four-under-par 280, good enough to tie for third in the individual race. He had a one-stroke lead heading to the par-5 18th hole, but found two bunkers and missed a 12-foot bogey putt en route to a double-bogey.

Par would have given Gore the national championship and bogey would have put him in a three-way playoff with Charles Warren of Clemson and Brad Elder of Texas. Warren won with a par on the first playoff hole.

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“You know what, who cares,” Gore said of missing the individual championship. “It was the best double bogey I ever made. I heard we had a six-stroke lead (in the team race) and there were 50 million thoughts running through my head so it was hard to play golf. It doesn’t matter because I love all these guys and the team trophy is what college golf is all about.”

Pepperdine players inked Geiberger’s initials and 425--his hotel room number--on the back of their hats at the beginning of the week as a tribute to their ailing coach.

The Waves, who were not invited to the NCAA preview tournament at Conway Farms at the beginning of this season, had not played the course before arriving on Tuesday. They were sixth after the first round, third after two rounds and took the lead after the third round.

“I guess we’ll be invited to everything next year,” Geiberger said.

Gore, a two-time Pac-10 champion, entered the final round two strokes back and started double-bogey, bogey on Saturday. He rallied to take a one-shot lead with an eagle on the 14th hole, a lead he held until the final hole.

“Somebody asked me what my favorite hole was,” Gore said. “And I told him, ’18--I enjoyed all seven shots of it.’ ”

Pepperdine senior Mike Walton finished fifth at 281. Walton, Gore and Elder were the only golfers to shoot par or better in all four rounds. Only five golfers broke par. Pepperdine’s Andy Walker, after an opening-round 77, shot par or better in the final three rounds and finished in a tie for 20th at 288.

Walker said that the experience of missing the cut last year was instrumental in this year’s performance.

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“We didn’t want to come here and just experience playing again,” Walker said. “There is so much you can get caught up in here and that’s what happened last year. We forgot to play golf. The main thing is we had fun and it’s unbelievable. It’s everything we expected and more.”

Walton, who along with Gore made the All-America team, said they controlled the only circumstances they could.

“The whole week was magical,” he said. “Coach got the chickenpox and Kevin happened to be here, the circumstances were nothing like we expected, but we’re all great players and we knew we had to play golf. This is the best feeling you could ever imagine, I don’t even know what to say.”

Pepperdine, ranked 20th in the latest national poll, barely qualified for the NCAA tournament after finishing ninth in the West regional and only a select few gave them a chance to win the title.

“There are 50 million people out there thinking, ‘How did you win?’ ” Gore said. “But there are at least 10 people in this room that know how.”

Geiberger, the son of longtime PGA Tour standout and current Senior PGA Tour player Al Geiberger, is one of those in the know.

“There were so many good teams here and it takes so many ingredients to win this tournament,” Geiberger said. “I just prepared them as the year went on and in February I started to get a great feeling about the team.”

We have two guns [Gore and Walton] as good as anyone in the country.”

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