Before the coronavirus outbreak ground normal activities in America to a halt, Pontotoc native Denver Russell and his Blue Mountain College golf teammates had gotten off to a solid start to the 2020 spring season.
Blue Mountain jumped three spots on the final day of competition to finish 6th at the Coastal Georgia Winter Invitational (Runswick, Georgia) in their first spring tournament on February 10-11.
The Toppers shaved five strokes off their first day to land at 308-303-611 in a 16-team field.
Host Coastal Georgia took the title with a two-day total of 289-291-580.
Oliver Merritt (FR/Queensland, Australia) was Blue Mountain's top player for the event, finishing tied at 19th with scores of 76-73-149, up four spots from the tournament's opening day.
Russell, a senior, posted a round of 75 and shot up 13 spots from day one to tie for 32nd with a two-day total of 154 (79-75), while Byron Brightman (FR/Victoria, Australia), Ty Howell (SR/Pascagoula, Miss.) and Zack Watts (FR/Oxford, Miss.) all fell to the 32nd spot also with 10-over.
Charlie Doran (SR/Nova Scotia) tied at 53rd, up five spots, with a 16-over.
"Our guys did a great job facing off against some of the top teams," BMC head coach Kevin Barefield said after the tournament. "We made some great adjustments to cut strokes on day two, so that really shows me how capable we are."
Blue Mountain next hosted the BMC Spring Classic at Old Waverly Golf Club on March 2 and 3.
The tournament was shortened to 27 holes due to rain on the second day of play, with Mobile winning the championship at 296-141-437. Martin Methodist took home 2nd with scores of 298-140-438.
The Toppers would finish 4th, up three spots from 7th after day one, shooting 304-141-445.
Individually, Blue Mountain's Zack Watts (FR/Oxford, Miss.) finished 3rd with a 76-31-107.
Blue Mountain's Byron Brightman (FR/Victoria, Australia) finished 73-38-111, good enough to tie at 12th.
Russell finished tied at 16th with scores of 77-75-112.
Charlie Doran (SR/Nova Scotia) was tied at 26th with scores of 76-38-114, Gerhard Both was tied at 26th with scores of 77-37-114, Ty Howell (SR/Pascagoula, Miss.) finished tied at 32nd with scores of 79-36-115 and Cameron Kohl (SR/Marion, Ark.) was tied at 32nd with him at 79-36-115.
Oliver Merritt (FR/Queensland, Australia) finished tied at 39th with scores of 80-37-117, Garrett Moore (JR/Southaven, Miss.) was also tied at 39th with scores of 78-39-117 and Tanner Robinson (FR/Jackson, Miss.) finished 58th with scores of 87-42-129.
"I was really proud of how our guys battled back to finish strong," BMC head coach Kevin Barefield said. "The weather was really tough, but they did a great job of staying composed and just missed a top-three finish."
Due to rapid developments regarding the spread of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus), on Monday, March 16, 2020 the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) decided to cancel the remainder of the spring 2020 sports season, ending the Toppers' year.
Russell said he felt good about how the rest of the season was going to go.
"I thought our players started coming around, and we were playing pretty good," Russell said. "My swing felt great, probably better than it ever has honestly."
On the day of the NAIA's announcement the Toppers were scheduled to begin play at the College of The Ozarks Spring Invitational at Buffalo Ridge Springs Golf Club in Hollister, Missouri.
"I have played that course a good bit," Russell said. "I was really expecting to do well up there."
As a result of the extraordinary circumstances, the governing body (NAIA) also announced that "no spring sport student-athlete will be charged a season of competition, and any spring sport student-athlete who was enrolled full-time in 2020 will be awarded two additional semester terms of attendance or the equivalent."
Russell said it is possible he might return to the Toppers golf team as a graduate student to finish out his playing career, but that is still to be determined.
"It kind of depends on if I get accepted into the (state) trooper academy," Russell said. "If I do not get accepted then I am thinking about coming back and getting my master's (degree), possibly.
"I was really excited about about the next three tournaments we had, possibly four. It was a real bummer that it had to be canceled. It kind of makes me want to come back next year and play. I believe all our guys are coming back. They are really bright, and they had a lot good things happening for them out on the course. I didn't have any top five finishes (this spring) like in the past, so that makes me want to come back possibly so I can finish really well."