'Storybook ending': Rebne's career at Dalton State concludes with putt to win national championship

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Ben Rebne and the Dalton State College men's golf team won the NAIA national championship.

Ben Rebne has had much success in his five years playing golf at Dalton State College, but it was his very last shot for the Roadrunners that will be the most memorable.

He's helped the Roadrunners to a conference championship in every season he's been on campus. He was named the Southern States Athletic Conference player of the year three times. He was named the Jack Nicklaus National Player of the Year Award winner, given to the top player in NAIA, for 2020 in what was originally supposed to be his final season.

But, with the COVID-19 outbreak canceling Rebne and the Roadrunners' shot at a national championship last year, Rebne returned for a second shot at a senior year, thanks to an extra year of eligibility from the NAIA.

Last week, at the NAIA national championship, with the title on the line, Rebne stepped up for what would be his final swing of the club. A 20-foot putt in the rain was the only daunting task standing between Dalton State and the Roadrunners' first team national championship.

"It's kind of every golfers' dream to have one putt like that for the win," Rebne said. "They told me before the shot where we were, and I realized what the situation meant. I just knew it was going in."

In it sank, and the Roadrunners were national champions.

"It's still surreal at this point," said Ben Rickett, the head coach of the Roadrunners.

Rickett has coached the team since the program started in 2014. The Roadrunners have long been a power in the SSAC and a player on the national scene. Sean Elliott and S.M. Lee of Dalton State have won individual national championships under Rickett's watch, with the latter coming in 2018 during the Roadrunners' previous high finish of second in the country.

"It feels like it's that one last box you had to check," Rickett said. "Now, we've done it."

The Roadrunners entered the final day of the championship in the lead, but didn't have as strong of a final found thanks to some rainy conditions. That allowed defending national champion Texas Wesleyan to creep back up the standings toward the Roadrunners.

A Dalton State par from Steve Kibare set up Rebne, the final Roadrunner golfer on the course with a chance to be a decider. Anything over par on the final hole would sink Dalton State. A par from Rebne would send the Roadrunners to a playoff with Texas Wesleyan. But Rebne landed a shot 20 feet away from the hole to set up a chance for a birdie and the win.

"It's kind of a storybook ending for Ben (Rebne) the way it happened," Rickett said.

The two Bens have been such an integral part of Dalton State golf since before the younger one even got on campus.

Soon after Rickett got the Dalton State job, he began recruiting Rebne from Heritage High School in Ringgold. Rebne arrived on campus in 2016.

"He was a great golfer as a freshman, but he's just improved so much to get to where he is," Rickett said.

After being named the NAIA's top golfer by the Nicklaus award last year, Rebne is a finalist again in 2021.

"I'm just glad we could win it for him," Rebne said of Rickett. "He's been working so hard at this for a long time."

Rickett's work has gotten the Roadrunners closer and closer to the top. Dalton State's dominated the conference champions and finished near the top of the standings at the national championship standings every season, including that second place finish in 2018. Another chance at a title went out the window last season, when a Roadrunner team ranked in the top five in the country lost out at a chance to compete for the top spot when the remainder of the season was canceled.

"You can have the greatest team every year, but there's no guarantee you'll win," Rickett said. "I'm proud of this group for sticking together and pulling it off."

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