Aggies win NCAA title in thriller
Sunday, May 31, 2009
TOLEDO, Ohio – Senior Bronson Burgoon picked up his maroon and white Texas A&M golf bag and put it on his shoulder, his 52-degree Nike wedge still in his right hand. He watched as his Pro V1 – a Titleist No. 1 – sailed into the sky above Inverness Club’s 18th hole and dropped down on the middle-right portion of the green, on top of a ledge sloped down to a tucked-left pin position.
The second he saw the ball begin rolling left, at about the same time the fans surrounding the 18th green started screaming, Burgoon lost it. He dropped his bag. He whiplashed his towel, screamed, then slammed it down into the rough, along with his wedge. Assistant coach Jonathan Dismuke jumped and latched onto Burgoon, the pair splitting up just as they neared falling over the edge of a deep fairway bunker.
Burgoon, who as a high school senior wasn’t exactly sold on the idea of going to college, couldn’t believe it.
How else to react after hitting the shot of your life – as Burgoon saw it, a 120-yard 18th-hole approach from scraggly rough to “about 4 or 5 feet” for a chance to end his deciding match with Arkansas senior Andrew Landry and win his Aggies their first NCAA Championship? Especially after standing on the 14th tee about an hour earlier with a 4-up lead – only to miss four consecutive fairways and greens and lose four consecutive holes before stepping to the 18th tee.
Imagine then what went through Burgoon’s head when he realized his ball had actually stopped just two inches from the cup.
Just like that, euphoric turned to historic. All factors considered, Burgoon’s shot will go down as one of the best in college golf history.
“I don’t remember what was going on,” said Burgoon, laughing. “It couldn’t be better, I still can’t even think right now.”
Bronson Burgoon talks to Golfweek.com three months after "The Shot" that won him and his Texas A&M Aggies the national championship.
Considering the setting, it was just another walk-off wedge at Inverness, where Bob Tway so famously holed out from the No. 18’s right greenside bunker to win the 1986 PGA Championship.
As Landry stepped up to mark his ball on the green, he conceded Burgoon’s birdie putt by giving him the thumbs up to pick the ball up. Landry had hit his approach before Burgoon from the middle of the fairway; it landed on the front of the green, and spun back a foot to about 30 feet from the cup.
Landry smiled as he gestured to Burgoon, most likely in shock. He took more than a few minutes to line up the putt, but his ball never found a good line and rolled left past the cup about six inches.
“That’s all I’ve got,” Landry said. “He just hit a great shot.”
Burgoon’s teammates, Conrad Shindler, Matt Van Zandt, John Hurley and Andrea Pavan jumped up and into each other. Burgoon hurriedly walked across the green to shake Landry’s hand, then returned to his teammates and coaches to continue the celebration.
It was a striking end to the NCAA Championship’s new match-play format that had drawn equal parts praise and critcisim over the last few days, not to mention over the last year.
On Friday morning, in the event’s first match, Georgia’s Brian Harman birdied Nos. 16-18 to upset Oklahoma State’s Rickie Fowler and the top-ranked and top-seeded Cowboys, sending Inverness into a frenzy. The moment created a gigantic bubble of buzz and emotion that only seemed to shrink throughout the semifinals and much of Sunday’s final, all of which lacked real drama, not to mention your typical college powerhouses and favorites.
It made you wonder if the new format had peaked before it really even began.
Early Saturday afternoon, the scoreboard behind the 18th green read 2-2; Texas A&M’s Andrea Pavan and John Hurley had run away with their matches, and Arkansas’ Jamie Marshall and Jason Cuthbertson both grinded out important victories late to tie the score. But most everyone in attendance still figured it was over, quickly and quietly, considering Burgoon’s 4-up advantage with five holes to play.
That’s when Burgoon, as he has been prone to do throughout his collegiate career, started to press.
Even his mother, Mary Elise, said she could see it in his eyes.
For four holes, Burgoon missed fairways left and struggled with approach shots from the rough and a tough lie in a fairway bunker. Burgoon, a highly-touted player entering college who had struggled to live up to expectations until this year, bogeyed 14, 16 and 17; Landry, ranked 36th and perhaps severely underrated until this week, made solid pars to win those three holes. On the 15th, Landry stuck his approach to 12 feet and made birdie to win the hole.
Shindler, a sophomore for Texas A&M, at that point was struggling with his nerves. “I’m about to throw up,” he said, shaking. “Here we go Burgie, good swing. I’m just going to vomit.”
Burgoon was just lost. “Nothing was registering with me at that point,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you what I was thinking, I was so upset.”
His drive off the 18th tee didn’t help, sailing right into a patch of rough that swallowed up several drives all week. A day earlier, Michigan’s Bill Rankin had chopped up 18 from the same spot, sailing his approach over the green into a bunker and then his next shot back over the green – handing the semifinal match over to the Aggies, and ending the 43rd-ranked Wolverines’ Cinderella run.
Landry’s drive found the middle of the fairway, seemingly in perfect position, even if Burgoon had a better angle to the pin.
“This is unbelievable, this is unbelievable,” Arkansas’s Cuthbertson kept repeating to himself as he looked on from the left side of the 18th green. “I can’t move. I’m scared.”
Burgoon’s mother, who has been taking her son to competitive golf tournaments ever since he was 8 and drove to Inverness this week from Texas, didn’t know what to do. So she did all she could; as Burgoon walked by, she slapped her chair and said in a strong, motherly voice to her son as he walked by, “You... are.. the... Comeback... Kid!”
You know what happened next.
“How more exciting could it have been for everybody coming down to the last hole like that?” said Arkansas coach Brad McMakin, ever gracious in defeat. “I mean these kids will remember that for the rest of their lives.”
Burgoon’s first call was to his brother, Brandon, who also played golf for Texas A&M and graduated last year. He was a big reason Bronson Burgoon even went to college in the first place instead of turning professional.
Burgoon, who tore through the Texas junior ranks, struggled through his freshman year, often clashing with coach J.T. Higgins and wondering why he was there.
His sophomore year, Burgoon decided to enter PGA Tour Q-School as an amateur; he made it to second stage, and was two good rounds away from getting to final stage and earning at least some Nationwide Tour status, missing by nine shots. He still decided to return to Texas A&M, coming away from Q-School with a better understanding of how good he would have to become to make it out there.
Playing college golf and preparing for Q-School took a toll on his studies, however. He missed six weeks of school that semester, and because of that, Higgins says he regrets letting him play in college events during that time. He fell behind and ended up becoming academically ineligible for his fall semester junior year.
“That was one of the hardest times of my life to be honest with you,” said Burgoon, who Higgins says “went to class like crazy (and) studied more than he’s ever studied in his whole life” that semester. He returned to the lineup in the spring, but still couldn’t find a way to bring his game to that next level.
At the NCAA Championship last year at Purdue, Burgoon watched as UCLA celebrated and raised the championship trophy. Higgins remembers Burgoon telling him “he wanted to do that.”
Friday night during Texas A&M’s team dinner, Burgoon told Higgins that he hoped to get to the 18th hole with the match tied, and have a chance to win the championship for his team.
“I’m not sure he wanted it to be the way he came into 18 where he gave up four in a row, but nonetheless... he saved the best for last.”
Holy Toledo, did he ever.
“It couldn’t have worked out any better,” said Burgoon. “It was perfect.”