NCAA Men's Final Set: Oklahoma V. Oregon

The passion of match play has once again made both men's and women's NCAA viewing a real joy for those of us who can have a television on all day. A big tip of the cap to Brandt Packer's Golf Channel crew for all of the great reaction shots, aerial footage and NCAA coverage.

How good was Tuesday's action?

The Nike Star Trek line sported by Oregon, Vanderbilt and others is actually growing on me.

Then again, it helps to see the clothes in school colors instead of the Best Pastels of Key West.

While the Ducks are the defending champs, Oregon's unlikely ascension to the final versus Oklahoma comes after they barely made the team match play portion of the proceedings. Brentley Romine with the Golfweek.com roundup of Oregon defeating Vanderbilt 3-2 and Oklahoma defeating home state hosts Illinois 3½ - 1½ to deprive us of a Pac-12 v. Big 10 match.

Golf Central's highlights of Oregon's win.

And highlights of OU's win over Illinois.

Lance Ringler previews the final match, including the potential decider between each teams' stars:

Match 5: No. 98 Brad Dalke (Oklahoma) vs. No. 366 Sulman Raza (Oregon), 3:50 p.m. ET

Kevin Casey at Golfweek profiles Raza, star of last year's championship match who has struggled as a senior.

And Beth Ann Nichols tells us more about Dalke, who was a finalist in last summer's U.S. Amateur and whose family has incredible ties to OU athletics.

Wednesday's final coverage goes like this on Golf Channel Wednesday:

Golf Central Pre Game        1:30-4 p.m. ET
Championship Match           4-8 p.m. ET
Golf Central                          8-9 p.m. ET

Ole Miss' Thornberry Wins NCAA Individual Title, Eight Teams Set

Fittingly, the 2017 NCAA men's individual title was captured by a five-time winner this season who had the season's lowest scoring average.

Beth Ann Nichols
of Golfweek.com on Braden Thornberry, whose unorthodox move scared off a lot of coaches but who used it to edge Arkansas freshman Mason Overstreet for the victory.

Alabama coach Jay Seawell was recruiting at the Future Masters in Dothan, Ala., when someone suggested he go watch this kid from Mississippi. Seawell took a look at 11-year-old Braden Thornberry, noted the uniqueness of his golf swing and thought “that probably won’t last.”

“Boy were a lot of people wrong,” said Seawell. “He’s the real deal.”

The winning putt:

 

#HottyToddy!!! @olemissathletics' @tberrygolf is the #NCAAGolf Men's Individual Champion!

A post shared by Golf Channel (@golfchannel) on May 29, 2017 at 6:05pm PDT

 

The low eight teams from the team stroke play/individual national championship advance to match-play competition starting Tuesday, and as Kevin Casey writes for Golfweek.com, it was a grind for nearly all due to wind, pressure and a tough golf course.
 
The final eight, with a full roundup from Golfweek's Lance Ringer (including predictions and matchups):

Vanderbilt
Oklahoma
Illinois
Oklahoma State
Oregon
Southern California
Baylor
UNLV

Quarterfinal Matchups:

Vanderbilt vs. UNLV
Oklahoma vs. Baylor
Illinois vs. Southern California
Oklahoma State vs. Oregon

Golf Channel / NCAA Tuesday airtimes:

Quarterfinals – Team Match Play       11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. ET
Semifinals – Team Match Play           4-8 p.m. ET

ASU's Vaughn Wins Women's NCAA's, Kent State Makes Team Match Play For First Time

The crowning of an individual champion and narrowing of the team portion to eight teams proved unusually exciting (again) Monday, with ASU senior Monica Vaughn winning the individual title while upstart Kent State was one of eight teams to get to match play. The contrast in emotions with the weekly drumbeat of pro golf was noticeable, and the match play hasn't even begun!

For ASU's Vaughn, Kevin Casey writes for Golfweek.com how the win came after an early stumble to seemingly doom her chances. So much so that Vaughn and coach Missy Farr-Kaye were not Golfstat obsessing on purpose.

It wasn’t until the group finished out and Vaughn’s teammates came running toward her that she realized she had won. And then the tears flowed – after all, Vaughn is a senior and a cornerstone of the program.

The veteran had been on fire entering the NCAA Championship, finishing top-3 in four of her previous five events – including a win at the NCAA Lubbock Regional. But after 23 straight NCAA Championship appearances, Arizona State failed to make the field in 2015 or 2016.

While Vaughn finished solo fifth as an individual at the 2015 tournament, the back-to-back team misses left a mark.

So did the 2-footer for par that lipped out on the fifth hole (her 14th) on Monday. The devastating bogey dropped her to 3 over for the tournament, and four back. Vaughn, who started the day two back of Kupcho, thought she put herself out of the individual race.

Beth Ann Nichols on the fine play of two Ohio programs, including Ohio State and Kent State.

Two Ohio-based teams, well-versed in brutal weather and tough tracks, made history at Rich Harvest Farms, qualifying for match play for the first time in school history.

“I just told the team I believe in them,” said Hession. “They’re as good as any team out there.”

Hession’s Buckeyes will face Southern California in the quarterfinals of match play on Tuesday while Kent State squares off against top-seeded Northwestern. Kent State ranks 16th in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, the same ranking Stanford had when the Cardinal won in 2015. Last year’s victorious Washington squad was No. 13.

Golfweek Staff's preview of the quarterfinal team matches.

Golf Channel, which begins Tuesday team match coverage at 11 am ET, had this wrap of Monday's best shots:

Artificial Surface Tee Gets Used At NCAA Championships...

The NCAA's plan to play men's and women's Division I finals at the same course is undoubtedly making their venue option list very short. And as Andy Johnson notes at FriedEgg.co, you can't fault them for going to a place like Rich Harvest Farms, which has generously opened its doors to Solheim Cups, Western Amateurs and more. But the course that was once ridiculously ranked by Golf Digest's panel only to suffer a fall, still has many wondering why Jerry Rich's design is even viewed as top 100 worthy. 

Things aren't off to the best start at Rich Harvest Farms, with a weather delay leading to a shortened event and an artificial surface tee box getting put into play.

Saturday's nasty weather wasn't Rich's fault, especially since superintendent Jeff VerCautren did all he could to have the course ready to take on an inch of rain (as it did for Saturday's women's D1 round two). Play was still cancelled despite beautiful afternoon conditions. Lance Ringler at Golfweek.com explains what went into the thinking behind cancelling the round and shortening the women's stroke play portion of the proceedings.

More disconcerting though was the Janet Lindsay's decision, forced by wind forecasts, to use an artificial surface tee that was difficult for players to actually penetrate with tees.

Brentley Romine reports for Golfweek.com.

“I thought to myself, some kids probably have never hit off a mat in their whole life,” said Ohio State head coach Therese Hession.

The mat made it difficult for players to put their own tees at proper heights. Some players used mini tees provided by officials, but even those weren’t suitable for everyone. One player grew tired of attempting, threw her tee on the ground and hit hybrid off the deck. Most every player hit some sort of hybrid on the hole on Friday.

“I hit a hybrid off the tee, and the tee wouldn’t go down,” Baylor’s Amy Lee said. “… I was kind of afraid of popping it up in the air. (The tee) was probably triple the height of what I normally put it.”

NCAA Regional Roundup And Madness: Jacksonville Player Drops Ball In Water By Accident, Strips Down To Help Team

You know this blogging thing yields some strange stories, and in reading about the NCAA men's regionals I'm not sure it gets any more peculiar than the plight of Jacksonville's David Wicks who...oh let GolfChannel.com's Ryan Lavner explain.

He crouched on a steep bank to read his putt, but as he stood up and reached for the ball in his right front pocket, he dropped it.

Of course, it didn’t just fall straight down. No, it kicked off the back of his shoe, rolled off the green, around a bulkhead, and after a brief chase he watched it tumble into the water on the left side of the green.

“I looked at my playing partners, they looked at me, and there was that awkward silence where we both knew it’d be a penalty,” Wicks said by phone Wednesday night.

Said his coach, Mike Blackburn: “Just a stroke of bad luck.”

Here was Wicks’ predicament: He needed to find his original ball or he would be assessed a two-shot penalty, under Rule 16-1. In contention both in the team and individual race, Wicks said, “I was always going to go in. If I hadn’t gone in and we’d lost by a shot, the nine-hour drive back I would have been thinking about it the whole time. At least I know now.”

Here is the video of Wicks making the desperate search as his playing partners look on in silence.

 

 

Jacksonville made it through for the first time ever in a playoff over Northwestern, as Brentley Romine notes in Golfweek's roundup of that wild and wacky region.

Oklahoma State edged Texas in the Austin regional, Romine notes in this roundup.

UCF advanced in a region that also saw Lipscomb make it to the finals.

As Golfweek's Kevin Casey reports, Oklahoma and Stanford headline the west region qualifiers that also included Pepperdine.

Go Waves!

The NCAA finals start Sunday for the women and a week later for the men.

Match Play Is Better Files: SEC Conference Fireworks

The SEC decided their men's conference title at match play for the first time this year. Judging by the images and quotes, things went swimmingly under the format.

In Sunday's semi's, both Texas A&M and Vanderbilt advanced on winning putts, reports Golfweek's Brentley Romine.

Freshman John Augenstein made this 15-footer for birdie on the second playoff hole to beat Florida freshman Andy Zhang

 

Augenstein starred again in Monday's final, this time edging A&M's Andrew Paysse in 23 holes, as Romine writes in wrapping up the exciting final.

And there was this quote from Vanderbilt's coach in Ryan Herrington's GolfDigest.com roundup of the first conference championship weekend.

“This match play is like a different sport,” said Vanderbilt coach Scott Limbaugh. “It’s just really special. John makes a lot of those putts in practice. We do some drills at the end of our practices trying to build these scenarios, and he’s the last one standing a lot of times. He’s one of the guys I would have wanted to have that opportunity. It was a lot of fun. It was about as much fun as I’ve ever had at a golf course.”

Match play!

It's Come To This: Now College Golf Coaches Have To Pretend They Are Happy About Early Defections

Spring means flowers, the Easter bunny and college basketball coaches pretending to be happy for not-ready-for-primetime freshmen declaring for the NBA draft. And now that absurd fake joy, which in no way helps a coach put forward his best lineup, must apparently be expressed in college golf.

Colorado has its best hopes of reaching the NCAA Men's Championship since 2012 but with a Web.com Tour exemption in front of him, Senior Jeremy Paul is leaving school a few months early, Golfweek's Kevin Casey reports.

“Jeremy has determined turning pro at this time is in the best interest for his budding professional golf career,” Colorado head coach Roy Edwards said in a release. “We respect his decision. He has a tremendous future in front of him.”

No you probably don't but we understand that if you were to say what you really think, some recruit will think you are not going to be the ideal place to prep for the PGA Tour. Let the dreadful cycle begin!

R.I.P. Mark Laesch, Golfstat Founder

While college golf will never reach the popularity level of other major sports, donors contribute often remarkable amounts to fund college programs across the United States. The impact has been felt both in lives changed by scholarships, but also by careers enjoyed because of college golf.

Which is why it's hard to capture the role played by Mark Laesch, founder of Golfstat in 1984. While described as a "friend to college golf" in this moving remembrance from Beth Ann Nichols, I would argue that Laesch's vision for scoring, stats and rankings made the sport something to be followed by friends, family, donors and fans. That Golfstat continues today as the preeminent source of information speaks to Laesch's influence on countless lives and importance of his creation.

From live scoring to detailed statistics and rankings, Golfstat provided new methods for NCAA coaches and committees to advance the game.

“I think what he did simply was a labor of love for him,” said Florida State men’s coach Trey Jones. “He changed college golf.”

"Golfstat founder Mark Laesch stays positive as his time runs out"

Golfweek.com has posted a very powerful piece by Beth Ann Baldry on Mark Laesch, who built GolfStat.com into an essential place since 1984 (!) and relevance-maker for college golf to this day. Laesch is the fourth member of his family to suffer from ALS.

Here is the full story that also includes a video component worth checking out.

“I happen to believe that the instant we die,” Mark said, “is probably the greatest single moment of our life.”

Laesch uses his left index finger to control a motorized wheelchair, the same finger he now uses to type. In recent months he has lost the ability to use his legs and his right arm. His left arm is going. His analytic mind, however, remains as sharp as his wit.

“I want everybody to be in heaven,” he said, “even my ex-wife.”

Golf's Heismen: Hossler, Law Take Top College Honors

I'm a little late on this but nice to see the recognition for Haskins winner Beau Hossler and Annika winner Bronte Law.

Hossler seems to be handling his shoulder injury well given that he is now delaying his pro debut. Ryan Lavner with the report on NCAA golf's two best players for 2015-16 and Hossler's health update shared with Steve Burkowski.

NCAA Men's Wrap: Big Ratings, Team Match Play & Substitutes?

There was a little grumbling about Texas not getting to replace the injured Beau Hossler and a lot of raving about the play by both Oregon and UT in the thrilling NCAA Men's finale.

Lance Ringler says "with so much on the line in college golf, it only makes sense to be able to change a lineup during the event."

But as he notes...

For any change to be effective, substitution would have to be allowed for any reason, be it injury or poor performance. Leave it to the coach’s discretion, just as in other team sports.

With a national championship at stake, Hossler’s pivotal injury provided a textbook example of why substitutions in college golf make more sense than ever.

In a sport already teetering on the brink of serious have vs. have not, carrying another player to the national finals and incorporating a sixth player during the season would add another cost factor that college golf can't ignore. Ringler points out the topic is a regular topic at the coaches convention.

As I explained to Cara Robinson on Morning Drive, the resources were there at this year's final. But more often than not, injuries rarely happen and adding another cost wouldn't do college golf any good. Also note the highlights played as I'm talking, Brandt Packer and team really captured that final putt in style.

In chatting with a few golfers and media today, the joys of team match play became another prime takeaway for many from the event. Once again, the combination of head-to-head play and representing a larger institution other than one's self led to a different level of energy, tension and passion we do not get with stroke play. Once again, folks couldn't help but wonder how Olympic golf is not something similar to this, perhaps with three-person teams?

Kevin Casey of Golfweek takes a closer look at the national champions and some of their trevails from last week.

And in case you missed it, Beth Ann Nichols filed this on UT's fast-playing Taylor Funk, who ended up in the spotlight trying to help Texas win the title as things went to sudden death.

The overnights are in and SportsTVRatings says the three hour, forty minute telecast in east coast primetime averaged 325,000 viewers, with 94,000 from the only demo that matters. I'm not sure where that number lands, but that's definitely double any PGA Tour fall event and has to be one of the channel's higher rated non-PGA Tour live telecasts. Hopefully that helps Golf Channel's investment pay off with the combination of eyeballs and buzz.

Roundup: Oregon Beats Texas In 2016 NCAA Stunner

No one deserved to lose!

Such a dreaded cliche but so appropriate in the case of Oregon vs. Texas at Eugene Country Club, with two great teams and two of the best coaches on the planet reminding us for the 49,721st time that team match play golf is just a bigger, better beast.

So glad we kept it out of the Olympic Games.

Anyway, it was a viewing joy to watch Sulman Raza and Taylor Funk go to sudden death to decide the NCAA title, but kind of cruel to have a title come down to sudden death on one team's home course.

From Jay Coffin's GolfChannel.com game story:

Drama was oozing from both sides.

Then they played the matches.

Fast forward to the end, because that’s truly all that mattered on this day. With the matches tied 2-2, the championship was decided by a PGA Tour winner’s son (Texas sophomore Taylor Funk, Fred’s son) and a man who grew up in Eugene (Oregon junior Sulman Raza), the two playing in front of hundreds of Ducks fans hanging on every swing.

Then that match went three extra holes.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Kevin Casey at Golfweek.com on the road traveled by the host school:

But something was different this week. Well, not from the get-go. In the first round, Oregon, Golfweek‘s No. 22, played closer to its ranking than its host status, only getting out to a tie for 19th in the 30-team after 18 holes.

Martin gave his team just a bit of a kick in the rear end, and all was good the rest of the week.
The Ducks stormed up to a tie for fourth the next day and stayed comfortable inside the bubble, finishing the stroke play sixth – well within the top eight to make it to match play.

Then, after an early deficit to defending national champion LSU in the quarterfinals (Oregon trailed all five matches in the opening holes), the Ducks remained positive and turned it around in a 3-1-1 victory. They then took down juggernaut Illinois, 3-2.

Beth Ann Nichols at Golfweek.com on coach Casey Martin winning on the course he grew up playing.

After the round, Martin told Golf Channel's Steve Burkowski...

“They are just competitors. They worked hard and they are great players. It is all about these guys. I haven’t hit a shot, I just told them to breathe. That was the extent of my work. These guys did an awesome job. It is a special group and it is so awesome to bring this to Oregon.”

And...

“It is too hard to explain. We have never had a national championship. We had the individual champion, we had the team champion and the local boy made the putt to win it. It is just unbelievable.”

Brentley Romine on Texas handling the loss with class and Taylor Funk loving every minute of the immense playoff pressure.

And this from UT's Coach John Fields, always classy, especially in defeat, talking to Golf Channel's Curt Byrum after the last putt was made. He was clearly already aware that even in defeat, his team helped showcase college golf:

“You work really hard as a coach and for these players, you come with a dream that someday maybe you can do something special like this. For them [Oregon] to do it with their home crowd here is magnificent. It is good for college golf. It’s good for everybody concerned, but not us right now, because it is stinging. It will be tough for our guys. But that is what it is all about. You’ve got to keep getting better.”

The final round highlight package from Golf Central:

The winning putt by Raza:

Tracy Wilcox's Golfweek.com photo gallery is stellar as always.