Maybe they were overshadowed by some of the bigger names in their respective conferences, although it’s kind of hard to overlook the defending national champion.
But after a long day and two rounds of match play Tuesday at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill., it will be Oregon, gunning for a second straight national title, and Oklahoma that will tee off Wednesday in the NCAA Championship’s final match.
Oregon, No. 9 in the latest Golfstat rankings, won the title a year ago on its home course in Eugene, Ore. The Ducks won the Pac-12 Championship in snowy Boulder, Colo. a month ago. Still, even going into the quarterfinals, they were the second highest-ranked team from the conference behind No. 1 Southern California still left in the final eight.
No. 17 Oklahoma spent the year trying to keep up with in-state and Big 12 rival Oklahoma State, No. 3 in the country and also a match-play qualifier at Rich Harvest Farms. Heck, the Sooners had to get past another higher-rated Big 12 rival, No. 5 Baylor, in the quarterfinals just to reach Tuesday afternoon’s semifinals.
But there were the Sooners blitzing No. 8 Illinois, the Big Ten champion, by taking the first three matches on their way to a 3.5-1.5 victory in the one semifinal.
Then it was Oregon, with Eugene native Sulman Raza coming up big just as he did in the title run a year ago, finishing off the Ducks’ 3-2 victory over No. 4 Vanderbilt, which had dominated the stroke-play qualifying in earning the top seed in match play.
There will be some grumbling about the two best teams not making it to the final, but match play brings drama and match play identifies toughness and Oregon and Oklahoma were the toughest two teams on the golf course Tuesday. That’s why they’ll play for the national championship Wednesday.
The Oklahoma-Illinois match was anchored by a wonderful battle between the Sooners’ Brad Dalke, a sophomore from Norman, Okla., and the Illini’s Dylan Meyer, a junior from Evansville, Ind. who is No. 4 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR).
Meyer won the match, 1-up, but Oklahoma’s first three out made sure it didn’t matter.
Blaine Hale, a sophomore from Dallas, defeated Edoardo Lipparelli, a sophomore from Italy, 4 and 3, Max McGreevy, a senior from Edmond, Okla., beat Giovanni Tadiotto, a freshman from Belgium, 2 and 1, and Rylee Reinertson, a junior from Gibbon, Neb., downed Michael Feagles, a freshman from Scottsdale, Ariz., 3 and 1.
Grant Hirschman, a junior from Collierville, Tenn., battled Nick Hardy, a junior from Northbrook, Ill. who is No. 12 in the WAGR, to a draw, which is how it ended when the Sooners clinched the match.
Raza, a redshirt senior, found himself in the anchor match for Oregon pitted against Vanderbilt’s Matthias Schwab, a senior from Austria who is No. 5 in the WAGR.
But Raza, holding a 1-up lead, calmly reached the par-5 18th in two and finished off a 2-up victory that sent the Ducks into the final again. Earlier in the day, Raza holed a 10-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole to defeat Oklahoma State’s Hayden Wood, a sophomore from Edmond, Okla., 2 and 1, and clinch a 3-2 victory in the quarterfinals for the Ducks.
Oregon also got a 3 and 2 victory from Norman Xiong, a freshman from Canyon Lake, Calif., over Patrick Martin, a sophomore from Birmingham, Ala., and a 4 and 3 victory from Wyndham Clark, a redshirt senior from Denver, over Will Gordon, a sophomore from Davidson, N.C.
Vanderbilt’s Theo Humphrey, a junior from Greenwich, Conn., cruised to a 5 and 4 victory over Ryan Gronland, a redshirt sophomore from Pleasanton, Calif.
The Commodores’ John Augenstein, a freshman from Owensboro, Ky., reprised some of his heroics from Vanderbilt’s match-play run to the Southeast Conference title in pulling out a dramatic win on the 19th hole over Edwin Yi.
But Raza, who just keeps coming through for Oregon, finished the job.
Yi and Gronland were winners for the Ducks in the quarterfinal victory over Oklahoma State, but again it was Raza earning the clinching point with his birdie putt.
Humphrey got the clinching point for Vanderbilt in a hard-fought 3-2 quarterfinal victory over No. 16 UNLV as he edged Justin Kim, a freshman from Fullerton, Calif., 1-up. Martin and Schwab also won their matches for the Commodores.
Dalke was the hero for Oklahoma in a 3-2 win over a tough Baylor team as he pulled out a victory on the 19th hole over Matthew Perrine, a junior from Austin, Texas. Reinertson and Hirschman also picked up points for the Sooners.
Probably the most intriguing of the quarterfinal matches saw Illinois send top-ranked Southern Cal home with a 3.5-1.5 victory that couldn’t have been much closer.
All three of the Illini’s full points came on 1-up victories, highlighted by Hardy’s win over Rico Hoey, a senior from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. who is No. 17 in the WAGR. Matchups of players in the top 20 in the WAGR in the quarterfinals like that is the beauty of match play in the NCAA Championship.
Lipparelli and Tadiotto also earned full points with 1-up win for the Illini.