Ringler: Match play gives NCAAs staying power
If moments are what define an event, then there’s been no shortage of definition for the NCAA Championship since match play was added five years ago. I must say that many more moments come to mind from the past five national championships than from the years before that.
Of course, Kevin Chappell chipping in on the 17th hole at Purdue’s Kampen Course to help the UCLA Bruins win the 2008 title by a single stroke over Stanford stands out. I also can’t forget Duke’s Michael Schachner barely missing a putt for 59. Schachner’s 60 left him in a tie for 31st place.
Other than that, since my first championship in 2001, the moments are blurry. In all of those previous championships, events stand out like more of a memory than a moment. I remember Minnesota winning the 2002 championship and California surprising us all at The Homestead in 2004, but my memories of more exact shots and moments stand out from the past few years. I attribute the difference to match play, where the team vs. team aspect brings out an excitement unlike what we have seen in past stroke-play championships.
At times, match play has caused me to run on the golf course. In 2009, I nearly missed one of the greatest shots of all time, but a sprint to the 18th green allowed me to see Bronson Burgoon’s wedge shot that stopped with a couple of feet, setting up a birdie to defeat Andrew Landry on the final hole at Inverness Club and leave Texas A&M with the NCAA title.
Also in 2009, I will never forget following Michigan’s Lion Kim and USC’s Matt Giles. Giles was considerably longer off the tee than Kim, however Kim defeated Giles to help Michigan advance to the semifinals.
This past year was no different. It started in the opening round with Arizona State freshman Jon Rahm flirting with a 59, but ending with a 9-under 61. That round would prove vital for the Sun Devils, which advanced to match play.
The chase to get into the top eight will almost always provide great theater as the final round of stroke-play qualifying wraps up. This year might have been the best yet with four teams having to play off for three spots. UNLV’s Kurt Kitayama made an eagle 2 of his final hole of the third round to get the Rebels into that playoff, while Tyler Dunlap of Texas A&M was assessed a one-stroke slow-play penalty that knocked the Aggies back a shot and into the playoff, from which they failed to advance. Each are moments that won’t soon be forgotten by anyone who witnessed them.
This year we saw several matches go extra holes to determine which team would advance. But none bigger than Illinois’ Thomas Pieters, 2012 NCAA individual champion, and California’s Max Homa, the 2013 champion. Pieters won on the second extra hole, giving the Fighting Illini a spot in the national-championship match.
There was one moment – a shot – I will never forget. That is Bobby Wyatt’s flop shot on the par-3 13th hole to close his match against Thomas Detry of Illinois and put the first point on the board for Alabama. Wyatt’s ball sailed at least 30 feet into the air before landing softly on the green and trickling into the cup for a birdie. The shot sent Crimson Tide fans into a frenzy. Adding to the moment, Wyatt had to step away due to a mini-roar after his teammate Trey Mullinax made eagle on the 12th green.
Alabama held off Illinois to win its first national championship in men’s golf at Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course, a great moment for Alabama fans.