OOLTEWAH, Tenn. – After shooting a 4-over 76 in Thursday’s final round of stroke play at the NCAA Championship, Stanford senior Joseph Bramlett was left shaking his head. His team was left in a three-way playoff with San Diego and Arizona State.
“He was just praying for one more chance,” said Gary Ray, the father of Stanford coach Conrad Ray, who has been following Bramlett around this week.
“I just gotta redeem myself,” Bramlett told Gary Ray Thursday evening.
Friday morning at the Honors Course, Bramlett played his two playoff holes in 1 under, dropping what seemed like an improbable birdie putt, to help Stanford clinch the eighth and final spot in the match-play portion of the championship. Stanford, the 2007 NCAA champions, beat San Diego by one shot on the second playoff hole, as Arizona State was eliminated after the first hole.
Accordingly, top-ranked and No. 1 seeded Oklahoma State, who won the stroke-play portion of the championship by four shots, is left with a top-tier first-round opponent for the second year in a row. Last year, OSU won stroke play by 13 shots and then lost to a second-ranked Georgia team in the first round.
This morning, OSU opens with Stanford, Golfweek’s preseason No. 1 team. The winner of that match will get either Oregon, the overall No. 1 seed for the tournament, or Washington, No. 3 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, and a team that is coming off a win at the Pac-10 Championship and a 29-shot win at the NCAA West Regional.
“We get to go play the Cowboys, which is a team we always look for,” Conrad Ray said. “I think the guys are really pumped. … Now it’s an opportunity for our guys just to swing freely and enjoy the moment.”
For Bramlett, who has been plagued by a wrist injury for much of his college career, it was a time to exhale.
“It definitely feels good,” he said. “It’s a team game so we all have to contribute, and I struggled a bit yesterday. I just wanted to do the best I could today.”
Bramlett started the playoff on the par-5 11th, and hit his drive in the middle of the fairway. He layed up to 112 yards, which he had been doing all week, but didn’t catch all of his sand wedge. His ball landed on the edge of a ridge below the hole, and rolled back to about 25 feet.
A couple minutes earlier, Arizona State’s James Byrne had hit his third shot to 2 feet. San Diego’s Scott Brace then hit his third to 10 feet.
Bramlett stood behind his ball, staring at his putt intently about 30 seconds before getting into position. He aimed 8 inches right of the hole, and put a “good amount” of speed on it.
“And it went in, fortunately,” Bramlett said.
On the next hole, the par-4 15th, Bramlett bombed his driver down the middle of the fairway, 50 yards ahead of Brace. He hit his approach to 10 feet and barely missed the birdie putt. Grace hit a clutch 5-footer for par, but it wasn’t enough.
Bramlett and Grace waited on the 16th tee for about two minutes before the news came across the radios: Stanford was in, thanks to a birdie by Sihwan Kim.
Kim pushed his drive into the right rough on the par-5 17th, and had to lay up to 99 yards. He hit his third shot to 12 feet. Stanford’s three other scorers made par, as Stanford beat San Diego, 1 under to even par.
“It was right-to-left, about 2 feet of break,” Kim said of the birdie putt.
Steve Ziegler made a 12-foot, uphill birdie putt on No. 17 on the first extra hole of the playoff to help Stanford advance along with San Diego. He holed a 20-foot bogey putt on the 18th, but that score was thrown out.
“We got the juices flowing already,” Ziegler said. “I think it’s great because we’re playing like we have nothing to lose. We just got in, and so now we can just kind of play like we’re playing with house money.”
Conrad Ray said he would try to calm his team before its first-round match against Oklahoma State. The playoff ended just before 9 a.m. Friday. Bramlett, was scheduled to tee off at 9:45 a.m. in a match against Oklahoma State’s Sean Einhaus.
“I think the guys are running on adrenaline right now,” Ray said. “We’ve got a match ahead of us now. We have to regroup, catch our breath, take a couple deep breaths, and go after them today.”
– Sean Martin contributed.