SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – Brad Dalke made headlines when he committed to Oklahoma University at age 12. Some might call that a premature decision, but not when you consider the family’s rich Sooner legacy. And clutch genes.
Dalke’s grandfather, Ken Pryor, was a three-sport athlete at Oklahoma in the 1940s. He banked in the game-winning shot in the 1947 Final Four against Texas to send the Sooners to the championship game. Dalke’s father, Bill, was a starting linebacker on the 1975 OU football team that won the national title. His mother, Kay, was a member of the first women’s golf team at Oklahoma. In fact, she was the first female athlete offered a scholarship in school history.
Even grandma was a cheerleader.
“There are just so many cool OU stories in my family,” said Brad. “Hopefully I’m kind of writing one this week.”
Sophomore Brad Dalke will anchor the Sooners on Wednesday in the NCAA Championship final against Oregon. Head coach Ryan Hybl also put Dalke in the fifth slot in both the semifinal and quarterfinal matches. Oklahoma’s fate in the morning session against Baylor came down to Dalke on the 19th hole.
“I know he can handle the pressure,” said Hybl. The 11th-ranked Sooners have the chance to nab the school’s first NCAA golf title since 1989.
Bill Dalke met Kay in 1975 while they were students at OU, and she was waitressing at the Cross Timbers steakhouse in Norman. Brad, the youngest of seven children, grew up in a crimson-and-cream household. Bedsheets and all.
One Halloween, he dressed up in a football jersey with his dad’s No. 40 and a helmet that was far too big.
“It’s just all I’ve known my whole life,” he said.
Bill Dalke coaches football and golf at Norman North High School. Kay retired from coaching high-school golf but still works as a rules official.
Even though they know how much Brad cherishes the bright lights with everything on the line, watching their youngest son compete for such high stakes can be brutal.
“It’s triple tough,” said Bill. “As a parent, it’s just continual murder over and over.”
Bill learned to play golf in elementary school on a nine-hole pasture in western Oklahoma. He still breaks 80 most of the time. His father-in-law, Ken, consistently beat his age into his 70s.
“(Ken) was the best pressure putter I’ve ever seen,” said Bill. “If you had a 15-footer and your life depended on it, you wanted him to putt it.”
Ken died two weeks after Brad committed to Oklahoma. The fact that he was able to see the family’s Sooner legacy continue meant a great deal.
Last summer, Brad advanced to the final of the U.S. Amateur, earning him a spot in this year’s Masters. He played practice rounds that week with major champions Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson. Dalke missed the cut at Augusta, but left town with a significant boost of confidence.
“I saw that I‘m not too far away from the pros with my game,” he said.
After the Masters, Dalke went T-10/T-9/1st for Oklahoma. The latter came at the NCAA Stanford Regional, where Oklahoma finished fourth to advance.
“Let’s be real, if he didn’t play great out at regionals, we might not be here, either,” said Hybl. “He toted us out there.”
Dalke thrives on pressure because it means he has a chance to do something special. In the semifinal match against crowd-favorite Illinois, he was in the midst of turning his fortunes against Dylan Meyer when the Sooners clinched the winning third point. They ended the match on the 17th hole, and Dalke rode up in a cart to join the celebration. His next chapter of late-round heroics saved for another day.
“Hopefully I can get a ring that matches my dad’s,” said Dalke.
A family tradition.
– Brentley Romine contributed