Alabama gets its revenge -- and an NCAA title
MILTON, GA. -- The hundreds of Alabama fans decked out in red and white had plenty to cheer for Sunday at Capital City Club's Crabapple Course -- and weren't afraid to do let their voices be heard.
Then again, could you blame them?
After having to bite their collective lips 364 days ago when the Crimson Tide men's team heartbreakingly lost to Texas in the final round of the NCAA Championship, 3-2, at Riviera CC, the chance to come back and root on their squad—four of the five golfers returning—was too much to pass up.
Coach Jay Seawell's Crimson Tide squad knew that too. The opportunity to avenge the runner-up finish from a year ago was all this team had hoped for in the last 12 months, and they took advantage of it, defeating Illinois, 4-1, to win the 2013 NCAA Championship, the first in school history.
"It makes it more special," said Seawell afterward about taking care of unfinished business. "It makes you appreciate it even a great deal to more. It's so hard to even get here. And these guys have been on a mission, a mission, a mission. It is their championship and we won because of them.
While there was drama Sunday, ultimately Alabama was in control most of the morning. Junior Bobby Wyatt set the early tone, winning his first seven holes (with five birdies) in the first match out against Illinois' Thomas Detry en route to a 6-and-5 triumph.
Similarly, junior Cory Whitsett, the SEC player of the year, was 5 up after nine holes on Alex Burge in the fifth match, forcing Illinois to have to win the middle three contests to have a chance at repeating the magic it had a day earlier in defeating No. 1 ranked California and ending that squads magical 2012-13 season.
While the Illini's Charlie Danielson, Thomas Pieters and Brian Campbell made a game effort, there was something about this Alabama team that wasn't going to be denied. Pieters, the 2012 NCAA individual champion playing in his last college event before turning pro, knocked off 2012 college player of the year Justin Thomas, 1 up. Yet Alabama senior Scott Strohmeyer and junior Trey Mullinax pulled out their matches for the Crimson Tide, giving the No. 2-ranked team in the country its eight tournament title of year.
"You could tell Alabama had an edge to them today," Illinois coach Mike Small said. "They've been through this last year. Going through it once and not winning is a powerful feeling. When you group that together and come back this year, you could tell they had their mind made up that they were going to get this done."
It was fitting perhaps that Whitsett's point in his eventual 3-and-2 win over Burge was the clincher. At Riviera CC, he lost 1 up in the deciding match against Texas' Dylan Frittelli when he missed the green on the 18th at Riviera then had his club go under his ball without it moving on a third shot, before Frittelli rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt.
"With everything at stake, it's so high pressure and high intensity," Whitsett said. "I think it was almost worse having played it last year and then having to do it again. I knew what I was going to be in for."
Yet he rose to the occasion, winning his third match of the week, as did Wyatt.
The pain of 2012 won't ever go away. But the cheers of 2013 sure will take away a lot of the sting.
Photo by J.D. Cuban