Freshman star carries Auburn to NCAA match play for 1st time

Brandon Mancheno Auburn golf @AuburnMGolf

Freshman star carries Auburn to NCAA match play for 1st time

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Freshman star carries Auburn to NCAA match play for 1st time

STILLWATER, Okla. – Brandon Mancheno was in tears as he slumped over his bag after it all unfolded.

But he can be happy knowing this: His week in Stillwater is not over.

The Auburn freshman battled Monday for the NCAA Championship individual title and found himself in a playoff with Augusta’s Broc Everett after the senior missed a 10-footer for birdie to win in regulation.

It was a battle of the lefties in extras, with the pair returning to Karsten Creek’s par-5 18th for the first playoff hole. Mancheno’s second shot from the fairway bounded right and hopped up into thick rough just inches from the base of a tree. From that impossible position, he chipped over the green, made a nifty par and could only watch as Everett drained a 15-footer for the win.

“He made a good putt on me, and I’m happy for him,” Mancheno said.

There may’ve been that heartbreak, but Mancheno’s efforts boosted Auburn big time. The Tigers fired a closing 9-over 297 to solidify itself in fifth place at the end of stroke play at NCAAs. With the top eight advancing to match play at Karsten, Auburn continues its week (the Tigers will face Oklahoma in a Tuesday morning quarterfinal).

This will be Auburn’s first appearance in NCAA match play.

“I told the guys Sunday night, we were ninth going into this round last year and finished 11th and we were wide-eyed,” said Nick Clinard, Auburn’s head coach. “This year was about redemption.”

Clinard knew there was something special in Mancheno on the recruiting trail. He could see a guy with talent and swagger, the Jacksonville product just needed a little bit of refinement.

Mancheno was known to attack too many pins, and his putting was average at best. A serious focus on the short game this season has paid dividends, as has smarter strategy.

Mancheno, 18, entered into a deep lineup this season and never missed a start. He posted seven top 10s and had a worst finish of T-34 in a campaign that sees him No. 40 in Golfweek‘s rankings.

This is what Mancheno always wanted to be. By age 3, all he wished to do was read about golf and watch it on TV.

“As a young child … he looked at the TV and said, ‘You know, dad, I can do that,’ ” said Robert, Brandon’s father.

Brandon constantly honed his game from a young age, often practicing in the family’s front yard. He wasn’t afraid to try anything, even hitting over a neighbor’s house … which backfired when he accidentally hit a ball through one of the windows.

The neighbor came by to inform the parents that he would have his broken window fixed and he would be billing them. Dad wasn’t mad, matter of factly noting to Brandon: Good job, son. Next time hit it over the house, though.

Robert, now an engineer, is a retired Air Force sergeant, so he imposed discipline when he had to.

There was the time when his budding son was 10 years old and the pair was playing a round in 105-degree heat. They were far from the clubhouse when Robert suggested a course of action for his son and Brandon fired back, “Dad, don’t ever tell me what to do.”

At that prompting, Robert took his son’s bag off the cart, swung it on the ground and told Brandon, “You walk in, I’m done.” Roughly an hour later, Brandon was seen walking toward the clubhouse, battling with the oppressive heat every step.

“He learned from that, not to question dad,” said Robert, laughing.

Both parents, Robert and mom, Andrea, have been to a majority of their son’s events in his freshman season. The parents may be present, but it was Brandon who always wanted to play. They were careful to never push him into something he didn’t want to do.

It’s all led here, to the spotlight on a national stage. And Mancheno still looks to do more as his team faces match play, and a shot at the national title, in the coming days.

“It frees me up a little bit more, honestly,” Mancheno said. “Now I can just go out and play aggressive, and it’s exciting to have the opportunity to do this.”

It’s an opportunity a long time in the making.

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