NCAA final: A player-by-player scouting report
PHOTOS: California vs. Illinois (Semifinal)
Our Tracy Wilcox was all over the course on Saturday, taking in all that the Capital City Club had to offer.
MILTON, Ga. – Being the coach of the better seed, Alabama's Jay Seawell was on the clock first. However, Seawell deferred to Illinois coach Mike Small to insert the first player on the board for the national-championship match, which is set to begin at 8 a.m. EDT at Capital City Club’s Crabapple course.
“You're kind of dumb if you don’t, I think,” Seawell said. “If you have an advantage, at least it gives you a chance to see the style or matchup.”
Small expected Seawell to defer to him, and answered by staying with Thomas Detry to lead the Illini into the final match. Seawell matched Small with Bobby Wyatt, Alabama’s top-ranked player.
“We wanted Bobby Wyatt to lead us, but I wanted to see who he threw out there,” Seawell said.
Like Detry, Wyatt has been first out for the Crimson Tide in each of the first two matches.
In match No. 2, Alabama went with Trey Mullinax and Illinois picked Charlie Danielson.
Sticking with the same order he had used in opening two rounds of match play, Small went with his best player, Thomas Pieters, for Match No. 3. Seawell answered with Justin Thomas, the 2012 Golfweek Player of the Year.
“Not for any other reason other than I have the upmost respect for Thomas (Pieters). He is such a great player. And I just thought Justin (Thomas) needed to be in that match. I wanted Justin to be in that match,” Seawell said.
In the previous two rounds, Small has seen Pieters paired against two of the best players in college golf: Texas' Brandon Stone and California’s Max Homa.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Small said. “It shows me that Thomas wants Thomas.”
Seawell went with Scott Strohmeyer next, and Small followed with Brian Campbell in Match No. 4, leaving Alex Burge playing Cory Whitsett in the final match.
The format to set the lineups here at the NCAA Championship is the same one used by captains in the Presidents Cup. Both coaches agree that this format brings the coach into play.
“I think coaches can read too much into it," Small said. "The point is, you need three matches to win, but it gives more responsibility to the coaches and it involves your team a little more. I ask my guys, and I include them in the discussions."
Seawell also bring his players into the decision-making process.
“We try to find the most edge you can because they are competing, and if players are really good friends then we don’t want them to compete with each other,” Seawell said. “It actually brings the human element into the coaching part of it.”
• • •
Match #1: Bobby Wyatt, Alabama, vs. Thomas Detry, Illinois
• Wyatt, a junior ranked No. 3 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, is 1-0-1 in match play this week. . . . The 2012 second-team Golfweek All-American has missed just three greens in regulation in previous two match-play rounds. . . . Known for his good ballstriking, Wyatt can be a streaky putter.
• Detry, a freshman ranked No. 130 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, is 1-1 in match play this week. . . . The two-time Belgian national player of the year is a fiesty competitor. . . . Both of his matches have lasted to the 18th hole. . . . The youngster from Brussels has a lot of match-play experience to lean on.
Match #2: Trey Mullinax, Alabama, vs. Charlie Danielson, Illinois
• Mullinax, a junior ranked No. 37 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, is 1-1 in match play this week. . . . Very good off the tee, and his worst round in stroke play was a 72. . . . If there is a weakness here, it is his match-play experience.
• Danielson, a freshman ranked No. 193 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, is 2-0 in match play this week. . . . Perhaps playing as well as any Illini golfer, leading Illinois in stroke play with a 4-under total and then winning both matches to this point. . . . Hits a lot of greens; if his putter gets hot, he will be a lot to deal with.
Match #3: Justin Thomas, Alabama, vs. Thomas Pieters, Illinois vs.
• Thomas, a sophomore ranked No. 8 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, is 2-0 in match play this week … the consensus player of the year last season does not have many flaws in his game … is now 4-1 in NCAA Championship matches … has won six times during his college career.
• Pieters, a junior ranked No. 46 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, is 1-1 in match play this week. . . . The 2012 NCAA individual champion and 2013 Big Ten Conference champ. . . . A long hitter who has struggled with his putter in his opening two matches.
Match #4: Scott Strohmeyer, Alabama, vs. Brian Campbell, Illinois
• Strohmeyer, a senior ranked No. 57 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, is 1-0-1 in match play this week. . . . A long hitter with very good touch around the greens, but like any long driver of the golf ball can be a little erratic off the tee.
• Campbell, a sophomore ranked No. 135 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, is 1-1 in match play this week. . . . Might be the shortest hitter in the championship match but has a solid short game and efficient player who can frustrate an opponent in match play.
Match #5: Cory Whitsett, Alabama, vs. Alex Burge, Illinois
• Whitsett, a junior ranked No. 4 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, is 2-0 in match play this week. . . . One of the best short-iron players in college golf, he has won five times during his college career. . . . Matches his teammate Justin Thomas with a 4-1 record in NCAA Championship matches.
• Burge, a sophomore ranked No. 511 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, is 1-1 in match play this week. . . . If Burge can win this match and help the Illini to win the national title, he could be the MVP for the team. . . . Has great demeanor, and with little competitive golf experience is getting better each time out. . . . Posted his only sub-70 round of the year (69) in the final round of stroke-play qualifying.
• • •
Keys to victory
If Alabama wins the national championship Sunday, what will Alabama have done well? “Stayed resilient and stayed in the present,” Seawell said.
Seawell describes this week: “Fun. We wanted tomorrow because we know how fun tomorrow can be.”
If Illinois wins the national championship Sunday, what will Illinois have done well? “We have to be who we are. We have certain players on this team for a reason. We train a certain way; we act a certain way; we conduct our lives a certain way and we are who we are. These guys have bought into all that, and they fit the Illini golf profile perfectly. That’s who we've got to be tomorrow. We can’t try to be someone we are not,” Small said.
Small describes this week: “Opportunity. This is an opportunity to grow and get better.”