Oregon’s Sulman Raza, a redshirt junior from Eugene, Ore., finally got a birdie putt to drop on the 21st hole to put away Texas’ Taylor Funk, a redshirt sophomore from Ponte Vedra, Fla., Wednesday to give the Ducks a 3-2 victory and their first national championship.
Oregon, No. 20 in the latest Golfstat rankings, had been battling the entire postseason to try to get to the NCAA Championship because the Ducks knew they would be hosting at Eugene Country Club and that would give them some kind of small edge, even it was only psychologically.
In the space of three days Oregon had its first NCAA individual champion, Aaron Wise, a sophomore from Lake Elsinore, Calif., and then its first NCAA team title.
And, just as it had a week earlier with the women’s final between Washington and Stanford, the match-play championship produced exquisite tension, particularly when Raza missed his birdie try on the last hole of regulation and he and Funk, the son of PGA/Champions Tour standout Fred Funk, headed to the 10th tee for sudden death, winner-take-all.
Before we go any further, it should be mentioned that the Ducks started the match-play final with a 1-0 lead when No. 2 Texas had to concede a point because its best player, Beau Hossler, a junior from Mission Viejo, Calif. and a member of the 2015 U.S. Walker Cup team, couldn’t answer the bell after suffering a shoulder injury late in his match-clinching victory over Southern California’s Andrew Levitt in the semifinals Tuesday.
That Texas couldn’t send one of its other players out to face Oregon’s Zach Foushee, a senior from West Linn, Ore., is pretty silly. I’m not suggesting that the rule be changed in midstream. Rules are rules, after all. I’m sure nobody ever considered this scenario coming up just this way. Now that the scenario has come up, just change the rule, in case it happens again. That’s all.
Texas reacted heroically, as you would expect. even after falling behind, 2-0, when Oregon’s Edwin Yi, a freshman from Beaumont, Calif., defeated Texas’ Gavin Hall, a junior from Pittsford, N.Y., 4 and 3.
The Longhorns put their first point on the board when Scottie Scheffler, a sophomore from Dallas, took down Wise, 4 and 3. Scheffler birdied seven of the 15 holes in the match.
Behind Raza and Funk, the Longhorns’ Doug Ghim, a sophomore from Arlington Heights, Ill., finished off Thomas Lim, a junior from Moorpark, Calif., 2 and 1.
Which left Raza and Funk to decide the match. Both had their chances, but Raza, who had closed out Oregon’s 3-2 semifinal win over No. 4 Illinois by sinking a par putt, finally finished it off for the Ducks by sticking it close and draining the birdie putt on the third hole of sudden death.
Once again, team match play delivered incredible theater and once again a bunch of college kids put on an incredible show of talent, enthusiasm and effort. And Lanny Wadkins was superb, even while he was silently wishing the Oregon kids would get on with it when lining up their putts.
I paid a lot of attention to college golf, men’s and women’s, this winter and spring and I got really drawn in. I paid a little more attention to the women early in the season because many of the top players will be coming to Springfield, Delaware County for the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green Golf Club this summer, but I honed in more on the men once the conference championships started to be played.
It helps you understand why these young players who show up on the LPGA and PGA tours are so poised at such a young age.