Ducks Take First National Golf Title

IMG_9182gSomeone should make a movie of this… the script couldn’t be easier to write and the arc of the story strikes all the right notes; hometown boy(s) do good, surpass all expectations and lay claim to unprecedented fame and acclaim.

The Oregon Ducks – playing on their home course and three holes into a playoff for the national championship against the Texas Longhorns – saw the hometown hero Sulman Raza – sink a five foot putt to the Ducks a program first national title.

Adding to the plot line, teammate Aaron Wise two days earlier ran away from the field to win the individual championship – also a first for the program.

Underlying the whole narrative is the head coach, Casey Martin – also a local product. While Martin played collegiately at Stanford, he has been a regular at the host Eugene Country Club since he took up the game as a youth.

That’s a lot of stars to align but beginning six days earlier, they began to move into place. 30 teams teed off starting at 7:00 am to begin three days of match play with the field to be whittled to 15 after 54 holes.

Carrying a four stroke lead into the final round, Wise saw his lead evaporate away with a pair of double bogeys. As he stepped to the 17th tee the Ducks were in position to qualify for the quarterfinals as a team, but the individual championship remained undecided. A monster drive from the tee led to a 12-foot putt for birdie that sealed the win for Wise with a 1 over 71 on the day and a four day total of 275, two strokes better than runner up Rico Hoey of USC.

And while Wise lifting the individual trophy over his head was a tempting enough an ending, the plot line was just beginning to develop.

As the tournament moved on to match play, the Ducks found themselves paired with the defending champion LSU. Zach Foushee, Suman Raza and Wise combined to oust the Tigers 3-1-1 to set up an afternoon semi-final against Illinois.

Calling the 4th-ranked Illini “perhaps the most talented team in the tournament”, Martin watched as Raza iced Oregon’s position in the finals with 3-foot putt to give the Ducks the match 1-up.

The spotlight would grow more intense against the Longhorns. The Ducks were conceded a point when Texas’ best player Beau Hossler was ruled out with a shoulder injury. Edwin Yi won his match 4-3 to put the Ducks just one match victory away from the title. After Wise dropped his match and with both Thomas Lin and Raza trailing in their matchups, the top-ranked Longhorns appeared to be closing in on the title. Lin would go on to lose, but Raza fought back to all square with a birdie on 17.

When he and Texas’ Taylor Funk halved the 18th, the match moved on to a sudden death playoff. Raza nearly ended the suspense quickly but his 5-foot putt for birdie slid past the cup. Funk returned the favor, missing from six feet on the second hole. Raza didn’t let a second opportunity go to waste. Returning to the 10th hole for the third extra session, Raza drove the middle of the fairway from the tee then stuck his approach shot within five feet of the pin. When Funk missed his chance for birdie, Raza lined up the putt that would give the Ducks the championship. And to provide an appropriate ending to a script that had to be seen to be believed.