STILLWATER, Okla. – Zach Bauchou was already devastated after Oklahoma State fell to Oregon in the quarterfinals of the 2017 NCAA Championship.
He travelled back home with the team, and when he arrived in the parking lot at Karsten Creek Golf Club, Oklahoma State’s home course, around 1 a.m., Bauchou walked to his car and noticed he had a flat tire.
Bauchou and head coach Alan Bratton spent a miserable hour fixing it.
“We kind of talked the next day and we’re like, ‘Hey, let’s not make that (scene) the case this year,’ ” Bauchou said.
The Cowboys obliged.
Oklahoma State, the top-ranked and top-seeded host, steamrolled Alabama in Wednesday’s NCAA Championship final, posting a 5-0 victory over the Crimson Tide to capture the blue blood’s first national title since 2006 and 11th overall. Oklahoma State did it at Karsten Creek, seven years after the No. 1 Cowboys fell in a stunning semifinal upset to Augusta State at a home NCAAs.
This win also avenges Oklahoma State’s 2014 defeat in the final to Alabama, and the Cowboys become the first No. 1 seed to win NCAAs since the tournament changed to a match-play format in 2009.
“This day was all about (the players) and all the people that came before them,” Bratton said. “They’ll never forget how they stepped up on that stage.”
The Cowboys had all the pressure on them this week. They were No. 1 in the country the entire season, playing at home and trying to rid themselves of a long title drought (by Oklahoma State standards). The team embarked on a seven-event win streak during the meat of the season, and there were rumblings of this being one of the great squads in the history of college golf … chatter the Cowboys admittedly played a part in.
Bauchou iterated that after the team failed to capture the Big 12 Championship, he told athletic director Mike Holder (who won eight national titles at Oklahoma State as the men’s golf coach) they were still the best Cowboys team ever.
Holder disagreed, but Bauchou said the former coach told him he liked that he was thinking that way. Well, Coach, you’ll be happy to hear he’d been spouting that for months.
“We got like one tournament into the spring, and Zach’s like, ‘We’re the best team ever,’ ” said senior Sam Stevens. “I was like, we’ll see how this turns out. But we kept winning and he’d come back every week, he’d be like, ‘I’m telling you, we’re the best team ever.’ “
If that wasn’t enough, Oklahoma State has been the main subject this spring of a Golf Channel docuseries “Driven,” which has offered a behind-the-scenes look as the Cowboys tried for their 11th national title.
But Oklahoma State stayed above the fray throughout.
“The stuff going on around us, we’ve done a really good job of not letting it distract us,” said Austin Eckroat, a freshman. “We knew it was going to be a special year.”
He was right, as the Cowboys earned their 10th win of the season Wednesday (per Golf Channel’s Justin Ray, the Cowboys are the first team in 41 years to win the national title and 10+ tournaments in the same season). And they finished it out in style, in front of an estimated crowd of 3,042.
Oklahoma State was in control from the start Wednesday, winning the opening hole in three of its first four matches. The Cowboys only trailed in one match at any point on the day.
Bauchou made the biggest statement.
The junior had struggled with his ball-striking this week, but a strong performance tee to green Tuesday imbued him with confidence. Bauchou knocked down flagsticks, birdied five of his first eight holes to race to a 6-up lead on Jonathan Hardee and then holed a greenside bunker shot for eagle at the par-5 ninth. He had gone out in 7-under 29 and was 7 up.
A win at the 10th put him 8 up, and he closed out an 8-and 7 victory after draining a 10-footer for par at the par-3 11th.
“I was the last out but the first in, which was pretty cool,” Bauchou said.
Viktor Hovland led from the start in the opening match against Lee Hodges and was 3 up by the turn. A birdie at the par-4 12th moved him 4 up and he cruised to a 4-and-3 triumph to put Oklahoma State up 2-0 and within one point of a national title.
Matthew Wolff, a freshman, gave the Cowboys the clinching point. The star newcomer, who earned the Phil Mickelson Award for top freshman in the country this season, also led from the beginning against Davis Shore.
He drained a 15-foot birdie putt at the par-3 15th to secure a 4-and-3 win and close out Oklahoma State’s 11th national title. (The Cowboys led in the other two matches at the time of clinching. Both remaining matches were conceded to Oklahoma State, giving Eckroat and Kristoffer Ventura victories as well.)
“It’s everything I could wish for,” Wolff said.
Earlier this spring, Wolff noted the team’s philosophy is ruthless: We’re not here to just win, we’re here to dominate.
That motto was followed to the letter in the final.
Oklahoma State did have at least one scare this week.
The Cowboys were never in danger in stroke play, medaling by eight shots to cruise to match play. But second-ranked Texas A&M gave Oklahoma State a late fight in the quarterfinals before the Cowboys threw back the surge and posted 3-1-1 win. Oklahoma State then secured a 3-2 win in the semis against Auburn before taking down Alabama in the final.
For the Crimson Tide, this was their fourth final appearance in seven years. Alabama won back-to-back national titles in 2013-14.
If you’re one for surprises, this was not your tournament. Oklahoma State was the favorite the moment last year’s championship ended with an Oklahoma title.
Right away, the talent was apparent. Particularly with the incoming freshmen.
Wolff came into the first qualifier of his college career and pounded vaunted Karsten Creek to the tune of 10 under (69-65) over the opening 36 holes. Earlier this spring, he was playing a match with former Oklahoma State star Chris Tidland and was 2 down through nine.
Tidland played his next eight holes in 2 under … and was defeated on the 17th green. Wolff had played those holes in 6 under, and then went and birdied the 18th as well to close in 29.
The home date for nationals only added fuel to the Cowboys. At times this season, Bratton would show a player a video of the home crowd erupting at the 2011 NCAA Championship when Sean Einhaus kept Oklahoma State alive in the semis by making a 20-footer to send his match to a playoff.
The message? Hey look at this, this is something to achieve for.
It ended in the Cowboys’ 11th national title trophy. It’s an Oklahoma State tradition for freshmen to lug tournament winner trophies home – grab it from the course, get it through airport security, sit with it on the plane, etc. – with Wolff being the carrier this fall. When Eckroat got into the lineup for much of this spring, Wolff delegated the duty to him.
There will be no fussing, though, with this trophy, as it’s already home.
Is this indeed the best Oklahoma State team of all-time? Nobody is quite sure yet, with Holder noting it’s virtually impossible to compare one group to another.
He also pointed out the Cowboys once won nine tournaments in a row across two seasons (1986-87 and 87-88). But, even after this stunning run of a campaign, the motivation for next season is clear.
“That should be easy,” Holder said, smiling. “We’ve never repeated.”
These Cowboys may not be done making history.