Oklahoma knocks off Oregon for NCAA men's title

Writing from Sugar Grove, Illinois

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The smart money in the morning said the NCAA Championship match would come down to the final pair, Oklahoma’s Brad Dalke and Oregon’s Sulman Raza.

Raza was the hero for the Ducks in 2016, needing three extra holes before providing the clinching third point over Texas in the title match at Eugene Country Club.

The junior would not repeat as the hero at Rich Harvest Farms. Dalke, a sophomore with a fullback’s build, built a 3-up lead after 15 holes and closed out Raza with a bogey 5 on the par-4 17th hole for a 2 and 1 match victory and the clinching point for his team in a 3.5-1.5 outcome.

It wasn’t really a surprise. Dalke played in the Masters this year thanks to last year’s runner-up finish in the U.S. Amateur. He won the individual title at the regional hosted by Stanford, and opened stroke play at Rich Harvest with a pair of 2-under 70s.

Now all he had to do, with Blaine Hale and Max McGreevy having disposed of their foes on the 15th and 16th holes, respectively, was knock off Raza, whose resume included winning the Duck Invitational this year, in the final match of the five-match bout.

Dalke won the first two holes, was 2-up after eight, stumbled around the turn to allow Raza to square the match, and then went 3-3-4 beginning at the par-4 12th to move 2-up with four holes to play.

A par at 15 put Dalke dormie 3, and while Raza made an all-world up and down par at the treacherous par-3 16th, winning the hole when Dalke three-putted, the end came at the 17th. Raza sprayed his tee shot into the hay on the right, the start of the bogey that sealed his fate. While Dalke also bogeyed, matching Raza’s score was all that was necessary, and the trophy was soon in his hands.

“It’s been a week to remember, for sure,” Dalke said.

“Brad’s a big-time player,” Sooners coach Ryan Hybl said. “He’s beginning to realize he can dominate like he did at Stanford, not just win.”

Hale beat Norman Xiong 4 and 3, closing him out with a 15-foot par putt at the 15th. McGreevty matched pars with Edwin Yi on the 16th for a 3 and 2 victory. Oregon’s Wyndham Clark, who will return to Illinois for the John Deere Classic in July, beat Oklahoma’s Rylee Reinertson 1 up for the lone Ducks win.

Oklahoma’s Grant Hirschman and Oregon’s Ryan Gronlund were on the 18th hole, Hirschman having just squared the match with a birdie on the 17th, when Dalke scored the victory.

“I got behind the eight-ball early, gave the first two holes to Brad, then made a mistake by three-putting on No. 4,” Raza said.

It’s the second NCAA title for Oklahoma, and the first in the match-play format. The Sooners also won in 1989.

“Our common goal was to win this trophy, and by gosh, we did it,” Hybl said. “We didn’t have a weak link this week.”

Maybe it was the internal team competition Hybl concocted over the summer, what Max McGreevy said was called “optimist prime matches,” to hone their match play skills. After all, the Sooners made the final eight last year in Eugene, only to get bounced by Texas 4-1 in the quarterfinals.

“When we did those matches back at home, it got us into the right frame of mind to bring here,” McGreevy said. “And getting there the first time opens your eyes.”

“Last year we were so excited to get to match play,” Hale said. “ ‘Oh, we’re in match play, it’s been a great year.’ This year, it was, ‘Let’s get a championship.’ ”

They beat Baylor in the quarterfinals, knocked off fan favorite Illinois in the semifinals, and then took down the defending champions.

Tim Cronin

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