My Year in Golf: NCAAs, Q-School and travel bring fond memories

Bruce Waterfield/OSU Athletics

My Year in Golf: NCAAs, Q-School and travel bring fond memories

Amateur

My Year in Golf: NCAAs, Q-School and travel bring fond memories

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The golf is what’s most entertaining in this work, but don’t underestimate the travel.

Most of it went on without incident, but my 2018 included a blown plane engine mid-air and some memorable road trips.

The car ride to a college tournament in Iowa with colleague Lance Ringler was especially entertaining. It’s tough to get the image out of a middle-aged man getting abnormally pumped to witness a big crowd showing up for a high school football game in a random Illinois town.

We also oddly had a great time listening to “Forensic Files” episodes for hours on radio as we drove.

But obviously, the readers are here mostly to hear about my experiences with the actual golf, and I’ll get into that now.

It was another great year at Golfweek with many fond memories.

Even though going to the Masters is always a thrill, it’s usually the NCAA Championship that tends to be the most memorable for me.

I’ve covered the women’s and men’s championships each of the last three years, and those two weeks can be grueling. But they are very rewarding as well.

There always seems to be some sort of insanity that unfolds at some point. This year was no different.

The final day of stroke play sees the remaining field of 15 cut down to the top eight teams for match play.

The Arizona women began that final day at Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla., in third and seemed safe to cruise to match play. But the pressure of cut day hit the Wildcats in full force, and they had plummeted outside the top eight down the closing stretch. Meanwhile, it seemed the eighth and final spot was coming down to Arkansas and Baylor.

Both teams were finishing on No. 9, and the irony of it all is that the Razorbacks’ Dylan Kim (who had transferred from Baylor before the 2017-18 season) was the one with a birdie putt to tie matters up and potentially force her former squad into a playoff for the eighth spot.

She missed her 20-footer. Baylor’s Gurleen Kaur then two-putted for par, and the Bears seemed to be in.

But soon after, on the other side of the course at No. 18, Arizona’s Bianca Pagdanganan drained a 25-footer for eagle to bring her team back from the dead and miraculously force a playoff with Baylor for the eighth spot.

The Wildcats would win the extra-holes session. And in line with how nationals have seemed to go in recent years, this late bolt pushed Arizona on an unbelievable path that would end with a national title.

Host Oklahoma State seemed to adopt a similar attitude on the men’s side. They may have been No. 1, at home at Karsten Creek and already being considered one of college golf’s all-time great teams, but the Cowboys still played with an inspiring fire.

Aside from a late scare in the quarterfinals against Texas A&M, the Cowboys blitzed to their 11th national title. And yeah, the home crowd was into it.

The weather was scorching – after watching the men’s final for about an hour, I went into the air-conditioned media center for a quick reprieve and was so drenched in sweat that it felt like I’d just jumped out of a pool when I walked in – but the spirit of the crowd and players shone through.

And it was a cool scene to see Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder, the legendary former men’s golf head coach who built the Cowboys into a dynasty and got Karsten Creek made, smiling as he answered questions loquaciously on the 18th green. He seemed so content, a feeling that was certainly deserved.

As I said, NCAAs can be a long two weeks. But I get so much out of it.

Like a number of fans, I miss the old PGA Tour Q-School. But one of the second stage Web.com Tour Q-School sites (Brooksville, Fla.) was near my Orlando base, and you could still sense the angst on-site.

As Andy Zhang, the player who once qualified for the U.S. Open at age 14 and left Florida in 2018 following his sophomore season, walked off his final green, he saw me and immediately inquired if his score would be good enough to pass him through to final stage.

I knew he’d made it, but I thought about it for a second to be sure (incorrectly telling a player he advanced would be soul-crushing). When I answered in the affirmative, he was so happy and relieved.

The reaction you would expect, sure. But it still catches you when you see the joy wash over one’s face like that up close. The 21-year-old (who finished T-8 at final stage to earn guaranteed starts in the first 12 Web.com Tour events of 2019, by the way) will get to chase his dream on the Web.com Tour in 2019.

I’m sure there are memories from my year that I will unlock after this posts. These are the moments that come to mind though as I look back on my 2018.

It was rewarding, and I never take it for granted.

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