Seniors lead Alabama to 2nd straight title
HUTCHINSON, Kan. – Alabama senior Cory Whitsett stood in the middle of the 17th fairway Wednesday at Prairie Dunes Country Club and watched.
On the green at the par-5 hole was fellow Crimson Tide senior Trey Mullinax, 1 up in his match against Oklahoma State's Ian Davis and facing a 20-foot eagle putt from the fringe to win his match and give Alabama its second straight NCAA Championship.
Whitsett, standing next to Alabama assistant coach Mike McGraw, couldn't really see all that would soon transpire, but when Mullinax's big-breaking putt caught the right edge and fell into the hole, the roars from the Crimson Tide faithful gave it away.
Alabama had gone back-to-back, defeating the Cowboys 4-1 and giving its three seniors, Whitsett, Mullinax and Bobby Wyatt, the perfect parting gift.
"It's incredible," Whitsett said. "That's why I came to Alabama. That's why Bobby and Trey came to Alabama. We wanted to win national championships. … When I chose Alabama, I felt like we had some ingredients that could really make a difference and be special, and I was glad I proved myself right."
As a sea of crimson rushed the green in front of him, Whitsett hugged McGraw, a former Oklahoma State head coach who had once recruited Whitsett, and burst into tears. Then one by one, his teammates rushed down the fairway to greet him.
Wyatt. Mullinax. Robby Shelton. Tom Lovelady. Then he heard a familiar voice.
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"Where's Cory?" screamed Alabama head coach Jay Seawell, running and weaving through the crowd before embracing Whitsett.
"I've had a long run (with these guys). … I'm kind of sad to see it go," Seawell said later.
What a way to go out.
"Hitting that putt on 17 is something that you always dream about," Mullinax said.
Alabama's senior class combined to win 27 tournaments in four seasons, including 22 of their last 32 events. Add to that three SEC titles, three NCAA regional titles, a national runner-up and now, two national championships.
"Being back-to-back (national champions), it's an amazing feeling," Wyatt said. "I'm not sure why I wanted this one so much more. I would have thought that the pressure would have been off having one, but it wasn't."
Wyatt got things going early for the Tide Wednesday, acing the par-3 second hole with a gap wedge from about 130 yards – a shot that he didn't even see as the ball hit the top shelf and spun back into the cup.
"I picked up the bag and started walking, and of course we were well outnumbered in fans and there was not many people up there," Wyatt said. "I think I heard one guy go, 'Whoo!' … It wasn't very climactic."
The finish wasn't, either, as Talor Gooch four-putted the par-4 16th green to give Wyatt a 3-and-2 victory in a match where neither player played particularly well.
The same can't be said for the second match between two freshmen, Shelton and Oklahoma State's Zach Olsen. Olsen shot 64 and still lost, as Shelton birdied nine of his last 13 holes, including his final three to close out a 1-up win.
"I never thought I could have as much faith in a freshman as I had in Robby Shelton," Whitsett said.
Next year, this team will be Shelton's to lead – "I'm ready for the, I guess, elephant on my back," Shelton said. But for the past four years, it has been Whitsett's, it has been Wyatt's and it has been Mullinax's.
They've been through the ups and the downs. Mullinax struggled in his first big tournament at the 2011 NCAA Championships, where the Tide missed out on match play; he was taken out of the lineup the next season, not getting to play in the 2012 NCAA Championship. In 2012, it was Whitsett who dropped the deciding match in the final against Texas. And Wyatt encountered his periods of poor play, including a stretch last summer in which he nearly lost a spot on the U.S. Walker Cup team.
And through it all, they finished on top, leaving one impressive legacy behind in the process.
"For these guys, it all became about Alabama golf," Seawell said.
Before the final match, Seawell and his team met privately for one last team meeting. The team chaplain shared a few bible verses. They talked about the thrill of victory. They talked about the agony of defeat. They talked about overcoming adversity.
But most of all, they just enjoyed the moment.
"I probably cried more in that meeting than I have any other ones. … It was our last team meeting," Seawell said. "I didn't want it to end because I knew when it ended that we wouldn't do it again."
And they won't, at least not with the three seniors. From now on, they will just have the memories – but oh what memories they are.
"It's been an unbelievable ride and to go out on top like this, back to back, that's just the cherry on top," Wyatt said. "It's been unbelievable and just been the best experience of my life."
Said Seawell: "I'm not their dad, I'm just their coach, but I cannot wait to watch them fly."