STILLWATER, Okla. – Most of the focus Saturday at Karsten Creek Golf Club was on the second national semifinal match between top-ranked Oklahoma State and defending NCAA champion Augusta State. Georgia and Duke were off first in the other semifinal match, trying to be the first to punch its ticket to the finals.
After a quick start for the Bulldogs, the Blue Devils made a rally early on the back nine to make things interesting. But, as quickly as Duke looked as if it might stage a rally, Georgia slammed the door.
The clinching point for Georgia came from Russell Henley on the 16th green when he made par to better Tim Gornik’s bogey. Henley would win, 3 and 2, giving the Bulldogs a 3-2 victory over Duke and a spot in the national championship match against Augusta State.
Other Bulldogs to secure points were sophomore Bryden Macpherson, with a 2-and-1 win over Austin Cody, and Harris English, with a 5-and-4 victory over Brinson Paolini. Duke scored its two points with Julian Suri defeating T.J. Mitchell, 3 and 2, and Wes Roach beating Hudson Swafford, 2 and 1.
Georgia entered the championship somewhat under the radar. Ranked 14th in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings at the beginning of the week, the Bulldogs figured to be a tough out, if only they could make it to match play.
“We have been thinking about that all year,” Georgia coach Chris Haack said. “Even though we did not play as well as we would have liked all year, we always felt if we could ever get to Karsten Creek and get to match play, then we are going to be a pretty tough team. But, at this point, they are all tough teams.”
Duke was one of those tough teams. In the opening round, the Blue Devils knocked off top-seeded UCLA, due largely to the fact they got off to a good start and never allowed the Bruins to make a big run.
“We did not get out to quite as hot a start as we did yesterday,” Duke coach Jamie Green said. “Our guys hung tough and stayed in their matches and came down to the end, and hats off to Georgia.”
Duke might have been poised for a match-play run. The Blue Devils had won the Callaway Match Play Championship earlier this spring, and with the victory in the opening round, Duke had been 5-0 in match play this year.
“To me, that was college validation of what these guys have done before they got to college, and that was pretty successful match-play players,” Green said. “Having won that event had let them know that they can do this with this kind of field.”
Haack should feel very comfortable with his chances. Seniors Henley, Swafford and English have been fixtures in college golf for the past four years.
“We do have some experience on our side, so it helps a little bit,” Haack said.
Georgia’s senior trio sports quite a record. The three have combined to play in 128 tournaments, seven times have been named All-Americans, 12 times have won individual titles and claimed a Player of the Year honor, with Henley winning that award last year.
Haack has guided Georgia to NCAA titles in 1999 at Hazeltine National Golf Club and in 2005 at Caves Valley Golf Club. The Bulldogs will be looking to keep the trend of winning every six years tomorrow at Karsten Creek.