OK State, Augusta St. to play for NCAA title

Augusta State's Henrik Norlander and Oklahoma State's Kevin Tway.

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OOLTEWAH, Tenn. – Based on history, tradition and success in the NCAA Championship finals, Sunday’s match to determine the 2010 champion is a classic case of David vs. Goliath.

Oklahoma State (Goliath) takes on Augusta State (David) at The Honors Course, just outside Chattanooga.

Oklahoma State made its way to the championship match in Saturday’s semifinals with a 3-1-1 victory over Oregon, while Augusta State moved on by defeating Florida State, 4-1.

The Cowboys will be out to corral their 11th NCAA crown, and second since 2006 under current coach Mike McGraw.

The Jaguars and coach Josh Gregory are after that elusive first national title.

“When you look at our program, you have to go back to Labron Harris Sr.,” McGraw said. “He built the program from scratch and produced its first NCAA Championship. Then Mike Holder built on that and really made it a great program, winning eight NCAA titles. Those were two really great coaches, and I think the stability of having just three coaches in 64 years lends to the credibility of the program.”

But it goes beyond the championships.

Oklahoma State is making its record 64th consecutive appearance in the finals this year. And what a run it’s been. In addition to the 10 title-winning trophies, the Cowboys have finished in the top 10 53 times; in the top five 49 times; and, perhaps most impressive, in the top three 28 times.

In a 23-championship stretch from 1970 to 1992, Oklahoma State never finished outside the top five.

On the other hand, this is only Augusta State’s 11th finals appearance. The Jags have four top 10s, and their best finish was fifth in 2002 at Ohio State’s Scarlet Course. The NCAA instituted the match-play portion last year, after 54 holes of stroke play.

And furthering the David image, consider that Augusta State is not a member of a big-time conference, such as OSU with the Big 12. Heck, Augusta State is not a member of ANY conference. Golf is the only sport in which Augusta State competes at the Division I level; the rest go at it in Division II.

“This is truly unbelievable,” Gregory said shortly after the Jaguars secured their spot in the finals. “This is the proudest moment of my career. And to play for the national championship against the most storied golf program ever and the No. 1 team in the country is going to be so very special.”

Oh, yeah. History, tradition and past successes would make Oklahoma State the giant among giants at the NCAA Championship.

Know what, though? None of it matters come Sunday at 9:30 a.m., when Sean Einhaus of Oklahoma State and Carter Newman of Augusta State tee off in the first of five matches.

They will be followed by: Trent Whitekiller (OSU) vs. Taylor Floyd (ASU), Kevin Tway (OSU) vs. Mitch Krywulycz (ASU), Peter Uihlein (OSU) vs. Patrick Reed (ASU) and Morgan Hoffmann (OSU) vs. Henrik Norlander (ASU).

It will be a new day. And when these two teams walk to the first tee Sunday, the playing field will be level.

No one knows this better than McGraw, whose team last year also was the top seed for match play and lost in the opening round.

“I’ve been around long enough to know that nobody is going to give you anything,” McGraw said. “That’s the beauty of this game. You’ve got to go out and do it.

“No one gives you any birdies on the first hole,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past, what you’ve done last year, this year, last week or even today.

“Tomorrow, we start from scratch with Augusta State, and I know we’re going to have to play our best to win. This is what you play for all year, a chance to win the national championship. I can’t wait.”

Oklahoma State has been No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings all season. The Cowboys have won five times: Ping/Golfweek Invitational, Isleworth, Linger Longer and most recently the Big 12 and Southeast Regional. They also shot 14-under 850 to finish first by four shots in the 54-hole stroke play portion of this event earlier in the week.

The Cowboys proved they weren’t invincible, though, when they placed 11th at UNLV and ninth at the Morris Williams.

Augusta State came into the week ranked No. 5, and at one point this spring held its best ranking ever, No. 2. The Jaguars were the sixth seed for match play after finishing sixth in stroke play, 13 shots behind Oklahoma State.

After a season-opening 10th-place finish at Olympia Fields in September, the Jaguars have finished out of the top five only once (a sixth-place finish) and have victories at Brickyard, Seahawk and their own Administaff. They finished second to Oregon in the Southwest Regional in San Diego.

So this is what it comes down to: Jaguars or Cowboys. One or 11. David or Goliath.

Time to lace ’em up, tee it up and get after it!

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