HUTCHINSON, Kan. – In golf, there are good days and there are not-so-good days.
Alabama freshman Robby Shelton was having the latter Tuesday at the NCAA Championship. His game wasn’t very sharp, he got down early in his quarterfinal match against SMU’s Andrew Buchanan and just couldn’t get any momentum for much of the match.
Yet, it was Shelton walking off the 18th green at Prairie Dunes Country Club with a 2-up victory, earning the match-clinching point for top-ranked Alabama as it topped SMU, 3-2.
“Attitude is the most important fundamental in the game of golf,” said Mike McGraw, the Crimson Tide assistant coach who walked with Shelton for all 18 holes Tuesday. “He had an amazing attitude today because nothing was going right for him. … There’s no way I could ever be as positive as he is on the golf course.”
Shelton, the SEC player and freshman of the year, tied for third in the stroke-play portion. He was again un-freshman-like in the first round of match play, keeping calm despite dropping the first two holes with bogey and trailing for the first 14 holes.
But then his fortunes changed, his patience and perseverance paying off. He chipped in for birdie at the par-3 15th and added another birdie at the par-4 16th to take his first lead of the match. Then after straying from the fairway at the par-5 17th, he was able to get up-and-down for par.
At the finishing hole, the par-4 18th, Buchanan hit a poor approach, severely missing short and left. With Shelton facing about a 5-footer for birdie and Buchanan in the tall grass, the SMU freshman conceded the birdie and the match to his competitor.
“I was surprised when he got down early, but I had no doubt that he was going to win,” said Alabama senior Cory Whitsett, who along with senior Bobby Wyatt followed Shelton’s final few holes after each closed match victories earlier in the morning.
A part of last year’s NCAA Championship-winning squad, Whitsett and Wyatt wasted little time dispatching their opening-match opponents. Whitsett knocked off SMU’s Ryan Burgess, 5 and 4, while Wyatt topped Austin Smotherman, 3 and 2.
Whitsett is 6-1 in NCAA Championship matches. Just two of those matches went past the 16th hole, too. He also went 2-1-1 at last year’s Walker Cup to help the U.S. to victory.
Wyatt’s NCAA match-play record is 4-2-1, but two of his wins came in the championship round. In 2012, he notched a 1-up victory over Texas’ Toni Hakula. Last year, he routed Illinois’ Thomas Detry, 6 and 5 – both of those wins came after Wyatt holed a match-clinching shot from off the green. He also earned the most points for the U.S. at last year’s Walker Cup, going 3-0-1.
Whitsett and Wyatt, two of three seniors in the Crimson Tide lineup this week (Trey Mullinax is the other), have proven time and again that they have the mental strength for match play. Tuesday, it was the freshman, Shelton, who showcased his strong frame of mind.