FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas golfer Sebastian Cappelen hopes the emotions don’t bubble up while he’s on the course at any point this weekend.
That’s because the senior, who will play his final few rounds as a collegian at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan., wants to make sure it’s a productive finale for the Razorbacks as he leads them into the NCAA Championships.
“It’s my last tournament and hopefully we make it a good one,” Cappelen said. “So I’m going to try to do my best, help my teammates as much as I can.”
Arkansas will open play at the NCAA Championships Friday at 1:30 p.m., playing in a group that also includes Houston and Alabama-Birmingham. The Razorbacks are ranked 12th by Golfstat.com, but a top-eight finish after three rounds would push them into the match play portion of the NCAA Championships.
Cappelen’s steady play will be vital in making it happen once again after carving out his place as the most decorated golfer in the program’s history.
A native of Odense, Denmark, Cappelen will finish his career as Arkansas’ all-time stroke average leader (71.9). He is a four-time All-SEC performer, three-time All-American and three-time Palmer Cup team member.
Cappelen holds three of Arkansas’ top-10 scoring averages and recently posted his 19th top-10 finish. He also has four victories, including the 2013 SEC Championships.
“He’s had the best career of anybody as a Razorback,” coach Brad McMakin said. “That and what he’s done in the classroom, being a great student and just a great advocate for our program. … I can’t thank him enough for what he’s done. He’s been unbelievable.”
McMakin said he found Cappelen while overseas watching former Razorback golfer David Lingmerth. Cappelen initially planned to begin his professional career without going to college, but McMakin was able to convince him to give it a try at Arkansas.
McMakin said it didn’t long for Cappelen to love it. In fact, he called him a “true Razorback.” He’s certainly been the backbone of the program for four seasons.
“He’s such a great player, and a great guy too,” Arkansas sophomore Kolton Crawford said. “Just watching him play, you obviously learn some stuff, what he does and why he’s so good. And you basically just try to almost initiate it, the things he does well. His chipping and his short game is so good that any of us would be happy to basically imitate what he does.”
Said sophomore Taylor Moore: “Any time he tees it up he feels like he’s going to finish well. He knows he’s one of the best. … That’s kind of what separates him.”
But it hasn’t simply been a one-sided experience. Cappelen said his college career has been invaluable for him in many ways both on and off the course.
“There’s so much more to it than I could ever imagine,” Cappelen said. “I mean, I thought I was just coming to play golf and have fun. It’s actually taken me somewhere, which is interesting. … I’m going to see where it can take me from now.”
The most important step, for now, is a strong finish at the NCAA Championships.
Cappelen enters his final collegiate tournament ranked 14th in the country, according to Golftstat.com. He and the Razorbacks are booming with confidence after an impressive showing at the NCAA Regional in Columbia, Mo., last week.
Arkansas finished second thanks largely to a program-record score of 18-under part 270 in the second round. The foursome of Cappelen, Moore, Crawford and Nicolas Echavarria shot a combined 28-under-par during the regional tournament.
The Razorbacks believe the success can carry over at Prairie Dunes, which Cappelen described as “very not American” because of its European links resemblance. Arkansas did its best to prepare for playing in windy conditions, practicing on blustery days at The Blessings in Fayetteville earlier this week.
“We’ve been trying to keep it low, and kind of roll it on the ground,” McMakin said. “I mean the course is going to be really difficult, from what I understand. Anything can happen this week. With the team in the top 15, anything can happen. You’ll get exposed if you play bad. If you play well, you can beat anybody.”
Whatever happens, it will be the end of Cappelen’s career as a Razorback.
He’ll then embark on what McMakin described as a “can’t miss” professional career because of his consistency throughout college. But the most decorated golfer in the program’s history won’t be leaving Northwest Arkansas, though.
Cappelen said he’ll make Fayetteville his home base while adjusting to the pro game.
“I’ll never forget my time here,” Cappelen said. “It’s been so great and I’ll always come back here. I love our football games and I love our campus. It’s so nice. And our coaches are great. I’ll always be back here.”