Saturday's rematch of last year's NCAA final proved to be just as exciting—and nerve-wracking—as a year ago, the overall contest decided once again by a single match that went into extra holes, with an unlikely hero stepping up and stealing the show.
Augusta State senior Carter Newman, using a long-putter he put in the bag in the middle of the spring semester, rolled in a seven-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole (the par-5 14th) after holing clutch putts on the 17th and 18th to give him a victory over Oklahoma State's Sean Einhaus and secure the third and decisive point for the Jaguars in taking down the top-ranked Cowboys on their home course.
"I told the kids before we started the day that today was probably going to be the hardest day they've ever had to play golf," said Augusta State coach Josh Gregory. "They were playing more than just the golf course, more than Oklahoma State, but about 5,000 people out there [rooting on the Cowboys]. It was tough. We didn't have much room to breathe out there. There weren't many cheers going up for the Jaguars."
Indeed the partisan OSU crowd was vocal, trying to help their Cowboys grab a bit of revenge.
It was Newman, though, who gained that when he knocked off Einhaus, the same opponent who he lost to a year ago at The Honors Course.
The Evans, Ga., native began to cement his Jaguar legacy when he made a 25-foot downhill par putt to somehow halve the par-4 17th hole after his drive hit a tree and landed in the right rough and his layup second shot also stayed in the rough. The gasp from the crowd when Newman's putt went dark, keeping the match all square, was almost as loud as any cheer all day.
"Without a doubt that was the most clutch putt I'd ever made," Newman said.
A similar groan was heard behind the 18th green when Newman holed a five-foot birdie putt after Einhaus had rolled in a 15-footer of his own.
"I was pretty nervous over that five footer. I'm not going to lie," Newman said. "I was shaking, just trying to focus. A lot of times I let my mind wander a little bit. Today I knew it was going to be intense, and I tried to just really focus on the task at hand. What I was doing, the shot I was hitting."
Einhaus' tee shot on the extra hole found the right rough as did his second shot, just eight yards short of the green on the par-5 hole. Newman, after hitting the fairway, hit his second shot just short of the green, then put his third to a reasonable birdie length. Einhaus, however, flubbed his chip, still coming up short of the green. He got up and down for par, but watched as Newman's putt close out the match.
The Newman/Einhaus match became the focal point after Oklahoma State's Talor Gooch beat Olle Bengtsson, 7 and 5, in the opening match and Morgan Hoffmann knocked off Mitch Krywulycz, 1 up, in match No. 3. Augusta State got its two points with Henrik Norlander defeating Kevin Tway, 3 and 1, and Patrick Reed easily handling Peter Uihlein, 8 and 7.
Indeed there was no more surprising individual result than Reed's trouncing of Uihlein, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion. The two first-team All-Americans had faced off last year at The Honors Course, Reed taking down Uihlein 4 and 2. In the rematch, Reed made birdies on five of the first nine holes and six overall.
"I hit it great," said Reed, who intends to turn professional on Monday and is set to play in the PGA Tour's FedEx St. Jude Classic next week. "I felt really comfortable with my golf game. Kevin [McPherson, Augusta's assistant coach] just told me make sure he stays in his game. It's showing that when i stick to my game plan that we make, I can pay with all of them and play as good if not better than everybody out there."
Augusta's win was a bit of vindication for those who thought last year's victory over OSU was a fluke. To do it on Oklahoma State's home course was an added bonus.
"They came to our home course earlier this year [winning the Insperity Augusta State Invitational] and made us look like a bunch of 10 handicaps," Newman said. "We wanted to show them we could play."
The challenge now for Gregory and his squad is to come down from the high of beating Oklahoma State and get ready to return to the course tomorrow to face Georgia for the team title.
The Bulldogs defeated Duke, 3-2, in Saturday's other semifinal, with the UGa's top two players, seniors Harris English and Russell Henley, winning their matches convincingly.
With fellow senior Hudson Swafford, the Bulldogs have a trio that will be no pushover for the defending NCAA champions, each having been a first-team All-American.
"For four years those guys have just been great ambassadors to the university for us," said Georgia coach Chris Haack. "I can't think of any better way for those guys to go out and have a chance to play in the final match and give themselves a chance to go out on the highest note they could ever go out on."
Haack knows something about winning an NCAA title, having led his team to the national championship in 1999 and 2005. Nevertheless, he was quick to put his team in a spoiler role come Sunday.
"They're the defending champions," Haack said. "Tomorrow we'll play the role of the underdog and see if we can't beat them."
Aside from the in-state story line—"I think we should just go back and play this at Augusta National. At least they don't have any rough," Haack joked—there is an intriguing subplot with ASU's top player, Reed, who actually started his career at Georgia before transferring to Augusta State two years ago.
(All times Eastern)
No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 7 Augusta State
1 p.m.—Bryden MacPherson vs. Olle Bengtsson
1:09—T.J. Mitchell vs. Carter Newman
1:18—Hudson Swafford vs. Mitch Krywulycz
1:27—Russell Henley vs. Henrik Norlander
1:36—Harris English vs. Patrick Reed