Clutch putts down stretch push UCLA to match play
HUTCHINSON, Kan. – The worst position in college golf to be in? Hanging around the top-8 cut at the NCAA Men's Championship.
But that’s what brings out the best in players and why the national championship is exciting for coaches, players, parents and college golf fans.
On Monday, it was a four-team race – UCLA, SMU, Illinois and South Carolina – for three spots at Prairie Dunes Country Club.
PHOTOS: NCAA Championships (Monday)
View images from Monday's play of the Men's NCAA Division 1 Championship at Prairie Dunes Country Club.
“We’ve struggled with finishing our golf rounds,” Bruins head coach Derek Freeman said. “So we have worked hard on understanding what’s comprised of that and why we were doing that.”
The switch flipped at NCAA regionals, allowing the Bruins to advance to their 12th straight national championship – the longest streak in college golf.
But Monday afternoon, UCLA, ranked 20th by Golfweek, got off to a tough start.
The turning point for the Bruins came at the downhill, downwind par-4 seventh – a hole that can be reached in two with a solid drive off the tee. The team went 4 under on the par 5, which included an eagle from senior Anton Arboleda – propelling the team into the top 8.
But it was Nos. 8 and 9 that truly put the Bruins into match play for the first time since 2012 with clutch up-and-downs from sophomore Jonathan Garrick, junior Preston Valder, sophomore Lorens Chan and Arboleda, respectively. Mind you, these weren’t just 3- or 4-foot putts for par, but more like 10 to 12 feet.
If strokes-gained putting were kept in college golf, the Bruins would have been king of the stat Monday.
“It was pretty crazy (the last few holes), but something we have prepared for,” Garrick said. “Obviously we were big underdogs heading into the week. We just fought so, so hard – and I am so proud of all of them.
“We just tapped into something special and we clutched up at the end.”