The NCAA Golf Championship decides the best team in the country from 30 qualifying teams over four rounds of stroke play and three rounds of match play. There is legitimate reasons to consider this much golf is overkill. But then again, what else could we want from our unpaid amateurs than to grind over every shot at one of the hardest courses in America for six days all for our enjoyment?
Well, and their success.
Vanderbilt was the second best team at the end of four rounds at an incredibly difficult course. Then they went head to head against SEC foe, Texas A&M, in the Quarterfinals this morning. By the end of the Semifinals, it got a little dusty in my apartment when I saw this tweet from the team’s official account.
The Quarters were awesome. Patrick Martin kicked it off by winning his match 5&4. He started a hole down after the first, and then he lost only one hole in the following 17. John Augenstein and his glorious lettuce won his match 2&1. Harrison Ott and Reid Davenport both lost their matches in close fashion, leaving the fate of the team up to Will Gordon.
Gordo is a senior, the No. 10 ranked amateur in the world, first team All America, and the SEC Player of the year. Yet, he struggled in the final match. He had the lead and lost it four times, including three separate times on the back nine. How much is attributed to the pressure of the moment and how much to the course is unknowable.
Gordon and his competitor, Dan Erickson, both hit it over the green on the 15th. Both had chips from a collection area 12 feet lower than the green to a pin that was on a down slope. Both tried to bump it into the hill and watch it trundle down. Both ended up with the ball at their feet to try again. Gordon hit a flop shot to 8 feet below the hole. Erickson repeated his mistake.
Then Gordon gave it away on the next hole, missing the green on a cantankerous par-3 while Erickson hit it dead in the middle.
Gordon and Erickson battled through the 18th and needed an extra hole. Gordon prevailed giving the Dores a birth in the Final Four.
All year Vandy has had three players in the top 50 in college golf. Gordon and Augenstein have proven themselves to be elite and Patrick Martin has been a very good golfer. Unfortunately, in stroke play the top four scores count and in match play ever player counts.
Harrison Ott and Reid Davenport are very good college golfers. They would beat the pants off any amateur hack and most country club sticks. But Ott is ranked 200 in the NCAA and Davenport isn’t ranked at all. The lack of depth came back to bite Vandy in the Semifinals.
PMart lost 3&2, never taking the lead. He’s the No. 24 player in the NCAA, and him not being able to win his match hurt Vanderbilt’s chances right off the bat. He has played out of his mind in the post season, and this was a hiccup for him.
Auggie gritted down and won 2-up. It’s semantics, but it shows the fire this guy has. He was up 1 going into 18, and his competitor had the opportunity to win the hole and force it to a playoff. Auggie won the hole instead.
Ott and Davenport both lost. Ott’s match came to the final hole, but he could not win the 18th, which is dastardly with about 15 yards to land a ball between a penalty area and fairway bunker. Reid lost 5&4.
But Gordo, just like in his Quarterfinal, would not be denied. He was down 2 holes thru the 10th. He won three holes in a row to go 1-up. He lost the 16th but won the 17th and held the lead for the 18th.
Though it was too little too late for Vanderbilt, Gordon, was the anchor of this team.
Stats are not kept in match play the way they are in stroke play. It’s hard to determine the strokes gained or lost to a field because there is no actual field. Fairways and greens matter, but only in so much that it pertains to the competitor- and that’s all that really matters.
It’s the unique place in an individual sport where you play against a course or a field or even yourself to go toe-to-toe with another individual. To find cracks in their game and exploit their mistakes. You can give shots, concede holes, and practice putting after a miss because it’s all about what you and the adversary agree upon.
That’s what makes Gordon and Augenstein so special in this run. They played like men in stroke play while the rest of the field was wilting. Then they came out and went shot for shot with their opponents. No round is perfect, so they made mistakes. But when they had to, when they needed it, they did all they could to put this team on their shoulders.
It must be a hell of a feeling to know deep down, when you’ve got to have something, you’ve got the stones to pull it out.
Take a look at Auggie’s face in this pic after the Quarters. You don’t think he wanted this with everything he had? It’s a joy to watch men in the arena compete with such passion. Congrats, men. It was a hell of a ride.