Oklahoma St. buries Oregon, reaches finals
OOLTEWAH, Tenn. – Oregon coach Casey Martin knew it would take a great effort to knock off top-ranked Oklahoma State in the semifinals of the NCAA Championship. The last thing he needed to see Saturday morning was a great start from the Cowboys, full of great chips and great leads.
“We knew it,” Martin said. “We knew how we were going to have to play, and we didn’t, so we got beat.”
Oklahoma State, No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, defeated Oregon, the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA postseason, 3-1-1, to advance to Sunday’s final.
Martin, a strong candidate for Coach of the Year, said Saturday ended “the best year ever for Oregon golf,” which included five victories, capped by the NCAA Southwest Regional.
The Cowboys, who have aimed for this chance since last year’s first-round exit to Georgia, will face Augusta State, which beat Florida State, 4-1.
“You got lucky; good job,” Martin joked to OSU assistant coach Alan Bratton behind the 18th green.
Certainly, the Cowboys, who defeated Stanford 4-1 in Friday’s first round, often make their own luck. Case in point: Senior Trent Whitekiller played the first seven holes of his match with Isaiah Telles in 6 under, including a 40-footer for eagle on No. 2 and 4-iron from 210 yards to 6 inches on No. 7 for a tap-in birdie.
“Tiger wasn’t going to beat him today,” Martin said.
For the record, Whitekiller won all of those holes to take a 7-up lead filled with positive energy. Whitekiller finished things off on the par-3 14th, sticking his tee shot to a couple of feet for a 5-and-4 victory and Oklahoma State’s first point of the day.
“I don’t know how you win the first seven holes, but I’m happy he did,” OSU coach Mike McGraw said. “He’s just an incredibly competitive kid who just doesn’t seem to get nervous.”
Peter Uihlein said he saw Whitekiller’s score on a leaderboard on the fourth hole and felt a lift in his confidence. Uihlein said he “kind of slapped it around” Saturday, but made a bunch of clutch up-and-downs and midrange putts to beat Daniel Miernicki, 3 and 2.
“I was just able to grind it out,” said Uihlein, who finished tied for second in stroke play.
But Morgan Hoffmann, in the anchor match against first team All-American Eugene Wong, grinded out the shot of the day, pitching in from the rough on a severe downslope behind a pot bunker on the par-5 second.
“I first was thinking play it up the slope and bring it back, but I had a really good feeling just to go for it,” said Hoffmann, who used his 64-degree wedge. “I landed it on the fringe and it just trickled in.”
Martin said Whitekiller’s start, Hoffmann’s shot and Kevin Tway’s chip-in for birdie on the par-4 first hole were early turning points.
“I think when you get down guys like that, it’s that much harder to come back,” Martin said.
Tway also took an early lead, going 4 up through nine holes on Andrew Vijarro, but lost some of that steam following a two-hour rain delay. He lost four of five holes from Nos. 10-15, shifting focus to Hoffmann’s match for the clinching point.
Hoffmann and Wong, who on Friday eliminated Ben Hogan Award winner Nick Taylor for his team’s clinching point over Washington, battled back-and-forth most of the front nine. But Hoffmann started to make his move on No. 8, making a 15-footer for birdie to square the match. On the short par-4 ninth, Hoffmann stuck his approach to 4 feet for birdie and a 1-up lead. He was 2 up after another short birdie putt on the 10th hole.
Wong stuck around until the 16th hole, but rolled a 12-foot birdie putt just by the hole that earned Hoffmann a 3-and-2 victory. Tway and Vijarro conceded each other’s putts on No. 18 and halved the match. Oregon’s only full point came from Jack Dukeminier, who beat Sean Einhaus, 4 and 3.
“I think the kids need to get off their feet,” McGraw said. “I think they need to get rested. They’ve spent a lot of mental energy the last two days, and we need to try to get refreshed. I feel like the kids are playing really well, and ultimately we’ll have to do that against a really good team tomorrow.”
Asked what has separated this year’s team from last year’s team, Uihlein had a simple answer: “We’re not taking anybody for granted.”