Stanford freshman wins deciding NCAA semifinal match while playing with a cracked driver


Walt Beazley, Arkansas communications

A clutch 24-foot birdie putt on the 18th at Blessings Golf Club helped Stanford’s Daulet Tuleubayev seal a 1-up win in his Tuesday semifinal match against Vanderbilt’s Harrison Ott, and propel the Cardinal into Wednesday’s NCAA Championship final against Texas. But it was what the freshman from Kazakhstan did with a different club that might go down in school lore.

On the first hole of the match, after hitting his opening tee shot, Tuleubayev looked at his driver after hearing the unusual sound it had just made. To his dismay, he saw the clubhead had a hairline crack roughly four inches across on the crown.

Tuleubayev conferred with his coach, Conrad Ray, who also talked to a rules official. Under a local rule in effect at the NCAA Championship in Fayetteville, Ark., except in cases of abuse, if a player’s club is broken or significantly damaged during the round he can replace it without penalty.

The only problem? Technically, just because a driver is cracked doesn’t mean it’s broken, a ruling that confounded Tuleubayev but one he abided by as he kept the club in play. On used the club again on the second hole, and hit it a third time on the fifth. It was then that the top of the driver in fact caved in.

Now officials finally deemed the club officially broken and allowed Tuleubayev to put in a new driver. But where would be get one from? He did not have a backup readily available, and Blessings clubhouse did not have access to an identical replacement head. According to Golf Channel, Ray was able to get in touch with a friend who is a Ping equipment rep, who spoke to a local rep and had a similar clubhead sent to the course.

It arrived in time for Tuleubayev to hit it off the 14th tee—the 14th, 15th and 16th at Blessings are considered by most driver holes—at which point he was seemingly in command of his match with a 4-up lead on Ott.

While finally playing again with 14 clubs, Tuleubayev proceeded to lose three of his next four holes, including the 17th hole after he received a penalty for accidentally hitting his ball on a practice stroke from the fringe of the green.

With the pressure mounting, Tuleubayev came through on the last hole, finding the fairway with the new driver and hitting the green with a 5-iron that Ray described as one of the best shots he’s seen as Stanford’s coach. Tuleubayev then rolled in the birdie putt to move the Cardinal one step closer to its first NCAA title since 2007.

“I normally don’t get that emotional out there. And I think it’s something that’s different about playing on a college golf team,” Tuleubayev said. “As you’re walking down the stretch, you can see the other guys who are there with you and putting their time into it. Finishing well for them makes it a lot more emotional than when it’s just you.”