June 1, 2016
It’s rare to know before the first ball goes in the air that, virtually no matter what happens, the day is going to produce an epic result.
Oregon, the 20th-ranked team in the country which had won only one tournament all year, was playing on home turf at Eugene Country Club and had the entire Pacific Northwest in its corner. Coach Casey Martin called it a “fairytale” that the Ducks were in the finale in the first place. A win at home would be damn near unthinkable.
Texas, the No. 1 seed and winner of seven events this season, was trying to win its fourth NCAA Championship and become the first top seed to win it all since match play was instituted back in 2009. To make matters more interesting, the Longhorns were without the assistance of their best player, Beau Hossler, who conceded his match before it began because of an injured shoulder. The better team was playing the role of underdog.
Drama was oozing from both sides.
Then they played the matches.
Fast forward to the end, because that’s truly all that mattered on this day. With the matches tied 2-2, the championship was decided by a PGA Tour winner’s son (Texas sophomore Taylor Funk, Fred’s son) and a man who grew up in Eugene (Oregon junior Sulman Raza), the two playing in front of hundreds of Ducks fans hanging on every swing.
Then that match went three extra holes.
You can’t make this stuff up.
In the end, Raza made birdie on the 21st hole to win the NCAA Championship for Oregon, its first ever in men’s or women’s golf. The putt dropped from 6 feet and hundreds of Raza’s closest friends swarmed their hometown hero on the green and formed a dogpile on top of him. Yes, a dogpile on a golf course.
“I felt like everybody was watching, and I just felt like everything was on my shoulders,” Raza said. “I think I handled it great.”
Said Martin: “It’s all about these guys. I haven’t hit a shot. I just told them to breathe; that’s pretty much the extent of my work. It is a special group, and it’s so awesome to bring it to Oregon.”
Hossler, a five-time winner in his junior season, woke up Wednesday as a game-time decision. He injured his shoulder late in Tuesday’s semifinal match against USC’s Andrew Levitt and knew that it’d be a tough ask to go out and give it another go. Hossler attempted to warm up but was in too much pain and conceded his match against Zach Foushee about an hour before they were set to tee off.
“It’s not about me, it’s about my teammates and my university,” Hossler said. “I don’t want to do any further damage to my shoulder…and my playing at 30 percent…I’d get smoked out there.”
The first two matches were over fairly quickly. Edwin Yi dispatched of Gavin Hall, 4 and 3, to give Oregon a 2-0 lead. But Scottie Scheffler put the first Texas point on the board when he beat NCAA individual champion Aaron Wise, 4 and 3. When Texas’ Dough Ghim beat Thomas Lim, 2 and 1, the score was tied 2-2, with Funk and Raza headed to extra holes.
Neither player had more than a 1-up advantage at any point, but Funk was 1 up after 16 holes and lost the 17th with a nervy bogey. Both players made par on Nos. 18, 19 and 20, as each missed short birdie putts to end the match during that stretch.
Finally, on the 21st hole, Raza won the national championship for the Ducks, making up for a birdie miss two holes prior. Funk had already two-putted from 20 feet for par.
“I loved every minute of it,” Funk said, classy in defeat. “That’s what you live for. We didn’t come out on top this time, but there’s going to be many more opportunities and I’m looking forward to those.”
Said Texas coach John Fields: “It’s going to be stinging and will sting until next year when we get here. They did not lose this golf tournament, a guy made a birdie to win the golf tournament from us.
“We had some tough circumstances and almost got the job done. Not quite, but I’m really proud of our guys.”
The ensuing Oregon celebration was like nothing we’ve seen in a college golf setting. The Ducks were instant rock stars at home, and Martin, a man born in Eugene who won an NCAA Championship as a player at Stanford, was standing there leading the charge despite battling his own health struggles for more than a decade.
He summed up his squad’s fairytale succinctly.
“This is a track school, and a football school and a basketball school,” Martin said, “and now it’s a golf school, too.”