Arkansas, Texas A&M to duel for NCAA title
__TOLEDO--__Arkansas and Texas A&M.
They've become the answer to the trivia question "Which two teams faced each other in the first match-play final for the NCAA Championship?"
With senior Jason Cuthbertson and junior David Lingmerth winning for the second time on the day, the Razorbacks rolled to a 3-1-1 victory over No. 1 ranked Georgia in their Friday afternoon semifinal showdown at Inverness Club. Cuthbertson took down Georgia's Harris English, 2 and 1, while Lingmerth knocked off__Hudson Swafford__, 3 and 2.
"We just kind of caught fire the last couple of days," said third-year Arkansas coach Brad McMakin, whose squad, ranked ninth in the final Golf World/Nike Golf coaches' poll, had finished second in its last five tournaments, including the SEC Championship and the NCAA South Central Regional, prior to nationals. "We're a bunch of little guys that don't hit it very far off the tee, but don't make many mistakes."
Sophomore Jamie Marshall gave Arkansas its third point, beating Adam Mitchell, 1 up.
McMakin conceded that the Bulldogs' emotional victory over top-seed Oklahoma State in quarterfinals earlier in the day might have worked to his group's advantage. "Georgia had such a hard match this morning that we thought they might take us a little bit for granted," said McMakin, whose own team beat Arizona State, 3-1-1. "We were kind of hoping that would happen and overlook us. We wanted to jump on them early, get up on them and make them think about it."
Suffice it to say, the Razorbacks followed that plan, particularly Lingmerth. The 21-year-old from Sweden holed his tee shot with a 7-iron the 200-yard par-3 third hole and made an eagle on the par-5 eighth to take control of his match. "As soon as I hit the ball, it felt great," Lingmerth said of the ace. "I thought it was the best shot I ever hit right away."
"I think [beating Oklahoma State] took a little bit out of us," said Georgia coach Chris Haack. "I almost wish we had a night to sleep on that one but that's the way it goes. Arkansas played great. Those guys made a lot of birdies."
Just as Arkansas seemed in control of versus Georgia for most of the afternoon, so too did Texas A&M in its semifinal match with Michigan, the tournament's Cinderella story. The Aggies posted early wins from Andrea Pavan and Bronson Burgoon, offset by a Wolverine win from Nick Pumford, while A&M's Matt Van Zandt had a 2-up lead over Michigan's Bill Rankin with three holes left. Yet as quickly can happen in match play, momentum sudden shifted toward Michigan as Rankin won the 16th and 17th holes to square their match.
With both Van Zandt and Rankin in the right rough off the tee on the 18th hole, Rankin proceed to hit his approach shot over the green, into a bunker, giving Van Zandt an opening. The Aggie knocked his on the green to 18 feet, then watched as Rankin couldn't keep his third shot on the green.
Still away, Rankin nearly holed his chip for par, the ball rolling 10 feet past the cup. With that, he conceded Van Zandt's birdie and gave the overall match to Texas A&M 3-1-1.
"Michigan was unbelievable," said Aggie coach J.T. Higgins, whose team was 16th in the final Golf World poll, having won three tournaments in 2008-09. "They wouldn't go away. We had a chance to close them out several times and they kept fighting and fighting. I was so impressed with their team. It was a great match all the way around."
The final match-up will be a clash of similarly styled teams. Both the Razorbacks and Aggies are close knit groups that have showed their emotions at Inverness.
Whichever team claims the national title Saturday, it will be the first in their school's history. The Razorbacks best finish was fourth in 1994; the Aggies was fourth in 1982.
__NCAA Championship Match
No. 4 Arkansas vs. No. 7 Texas A&M
__* Head-to-head record in 2008-09: Texas A&M, 2-1
* Baylor Intercollegiate, Oct. 27-28, 2008--A&M 1st; Arkansas 4th
John Burns Intercollegiate, Feb. 18-20, 2009--A&M 1st, Arkansas 4th
Morris Williams Invitational, March 30-31, 2009--Arkansas 2nd, A&M 10th
__10:30 a.m. Jamie Marshall (Ark.) vs. Conrad Shindler (Texas A&M)
10:39 Jason Cuthbertson (Ark.) vs. Matt Van Zandt (Texas A&M)
10:48 Ethan Tracy (Ark.) vs. John Hurley (Texas A&M)
10:57 David Lingmerth (Ark.) vs. Andrea Pavan (Texas A&M
11:06 Andrew Landry (Ark.) vs. Bronson Burgoon (Texas A&M)
The most lopsided match of the semifinal round was an 8-and-7 victory by Texas A&M's Andrea Pavan over Michigan's Alexander Sitompul. For Pavan, it was a bit of a vindication after struggling during the stroke-play portion of the championship.
"He was struggling all week with his ball striking, and we kept telling him you're one swing away from hitting it good," said Aggie coach J.T. Higgins. "In the morning's match against Arizona State, he hit a weak drive and had a 3-iron in on No. 14 and he looked at me and said 'I just figured out what I was doing wrong but it's too late.' I said, 'What are you talking about? You've got the afternoon matches.' And he said 'I'm going to play good.' He had three tap-in birdies and was 6 up through seven holes. I think he played great."