SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – Oklahoma head coach Ryan Hybl had some advice for his players before the Sooners took on Illinois in the NCAA Championship semifinals on Tuesday in front of an overwhelmingly pro-Illini crowd at Rich Harvest Farms.
“I told our guys,” Hybl said, “I said, ‘You guys go make birds, and they’ll be quiet. You guys go take care of business, and they’ll be quiet.’
The Sooners did both. Oklahoma jumped on Illinois early – the first three Sooners out in the afternoon won the opening hole – and then closed out the Illini, 3-1-1, to advance to Wednesday’s final, where the Sooners will face the defending national champion, Oregon, which downed top-seeded Vanderbilt, 3-2, in the other semifinal.
With Illinois back-loading its lineup with juniors Nick Hardy and Dylan Meyer, Oklahoma needed a spark out front, and sophomore Blaine Hale and senior Max McGreevy each stepped up. Hale made quick work of Edoardo Lipparelli, 5 and 4, while McGreevy led the whole way against Giovanni Tadiotto before closing out the freshman on the 17th hole, 2 and 1.
One Illini fan said at one point during the afternoon: “It sure is quiet out here.”
Well, except for the “Boomer Sooner” chants. Rylee Reinertson could sure hear those. After being 2 down through five holes against Michael Feagles, the junior from Gibbon, Neb., re-took the lead by hole No. 9. He then went on to earn the clinching point for Oklahoma with a 3-and-1 win after also picking up a point in his NCAA match-play debut earlier that morning.
“He was our MVP today,” Hybl said.
Reinertson isn’t like most college golfers. Deaf since age 2, Reinertson wears hearing aids in both ears. He also is one heck of a golfer, his work ethic outshining all of his teammates, according to Hybl.
“The guy works harder than probably anybody on my team,” Hybl said, “and to see good guys that work hard make something happen … it’s really special.”
Said McGreevy: “The amount of time he spends at our facility and just making sure his game is on point is pretty incredible. I feel like every time I’m up there, he’s up there grinding longer than anyone else out there.”
Oklahoma, one of just four teams to advance to each of the past seven NCAA Championships, will play for its second national title on Wednesday but first in the match-play era. (Oklahoma won NCAAs in 1989.) Last year, the Sooners made match play for the first time, only to lose to Texas in the quarterfinals.
When Oklahoma got back to campus, Hybl could tell his guys were already hungry to redeem themselves.
“You could tell that they were thinking about getting back here,” Hybl said, “and being able to show that we’re better than that.”
Oregon is trying to show that last year’s NCAA Championship victory wasn’t just a product of being the host. The Ducks, 13th after 54 holes of stroke play, rallied to make the top 8 on Monday.
“We had an amazing run at the end of our round, and under the pressure and under the tough weather, other teams kind of crumbled,” Oregon head coach Casey Martin said, “and here we are.”
With just two returning players from last year’s NCAA squad, the Ducks relied on senior Wyndham Clark, a transfer from Oklahoma State, and freshman Norman Xiong, who arrived this spring, for most of the season. But on Wednesday, it was a familiar face who led Oregon back to the NCAA final.
Junior Sulman Raza, who holed the title-winning putt a year ago at Eugene Country Club and sank another clincher in Tuesday’s quarterfinal win over Oklahoma State, was the last man on the course Tuesday evening.
With Clark and Xiong already in the house with two big victories, and Vanderbilt freshman John Augenstein having just drained a birdie from off the green on the first playoff hole to beat Edwin Yi, it was all up to Raza – again.
Raza led Vanderbilt’s best player, senior Matthias Schwab, 1 up, entering the 18th hole. Then from the fairway, he landed a long-iron shot about 5 feet right of the hole, his ball rolling onto the back fringe. After Schwab missed the green in two, ran his pitch well by the hole and missed the birdie putt, Raza calmly two-putted to go 5-0 in his NCAA match-play career – and give Oregon a shot at a second straight national championship.
Oregon is trying to become the third team to win back-to-back NCAA titles during the match-play era. Augusta did it in 2010 and ’11, and Alabama accomplished the feat in 2013 and ’14.
“It’s an incredible feeling to be back here,” Martin said. “To do it last year at our home course was amazing, but then to do it here in Chicago and trying to back it up, it’s hard to put into words.”
First, the Ducks will have to go through an Oklahoma team that for the first time all year has all five guys firing on all cylinders. The thought of that has had Hybl excited all week.
“I told my wife that I was hoping this group was going to have a chance to shine because I felt like they could do something like this,” Hybl said, “and I think they have a chance of doing something really cool tomorrow.”
Oklahoma’s hashtag on Twitter this season has been #OUrtime.
Said Hybl: “It’s our time to show what we got.”