__By Ryan Herrington
MILTON, GA.—__Nobody said trying to win a national title would be easy. Yet for three of the four schools that claimed victories in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Championship Friday at Capital City Club's Crabapple Course, the process was more grueling than they had hoped.
"What was that the other day I said about this feeling like I was getting a root canal. You can magnify it now by about 10," joked California coach Steve Desimone after his No. 1-seeded squad squeaked out as 3-2 victory over No. 8-seed Arizona State. "I don't know if I have any roots left."
*__Max Homa lifts Cal teammate Brandon Hagy in celebration after Hagy's win gave the Golden Bears a quarterfinal win over Arizona State.
Photo by J.D. Cuban__*
There was a familiarity between the Pac-12 foes, the two schools having competed against each other in seven tournaments during the 2012-13 season. In that sense, while the underdogs, ASU also knew what to expect from the team that's chasing not just a championship but the label of best college team ever. So it was that the Sun Devils managed to split the first four matches, 2-2.
The deciding point came down to a clash between Cal's Brandon Hagy and Arizona State's Jon Rahm, both of whom had top-10 finishes in the stroke-play competition. Hagy had a 1-up lead against Rahm on the 17th, and nearly closed out the match there before lipping out a four-foot par putt on the hole. On the par-4 18th, however, he hit his approach from 138 years with a gap wedge to three feet then had the putt conceded when Rahm missed a 15-foot birdie effort, ensuring Cal's dream season lived on for at least one more day.
Hagy's shot, however, wasn't the only clutch swing of the afternoon.
No. 2-seed Georgia Tech and No. 7-seed UNLV also sat tied 2-2 with one group on the course. UNLV senior Kevin Penner squared his match with a birdie on the 17th against Georgia Tech's Ollie Schniederjans, and the duo halved the 18th to force extra holes.
With the large partisan crowd following the Yellow Jacket sophomore to the first hole, Schniederjans found the fairway off the tee and then proceeded to hit the shot of the day—a lob wedge from 110 yards—that stopped two feet from the cup. Penner's approach was short and right of the hole, and he missed his chip to settle for par. Schniederjans tapped in the birdie, punctuated by a mighty roar, to secure his victory and a 3-2 team triumph.
"I knew it was down to that match," Schniederjans said. "All I could think about was the other times I'd been under that pressure and I do good. I was just super calm. I knew what I had to do. I make better swings under that kind of pressure. i don't know why. It feels good."
"The fun thing about coaching is just watching somebody do something cool," said Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler.
Both player and coach mentioned a similar moment that Schniederjans faced last fall at the U.S. Collegiate Championship when he hit shot to 2 1/2 feet on the 18th hole to set up an eagle that won the individual and team title for Tech.
"Back-slash, file save," Heppler joked about trying to rely on that positive memory for the future. "It's what you do when something is good. It's either that or back-slash, file delete. Make a choice. That's what you do with you good ones and bad ones.
Having survived close matches en route to the 2012 NCAA title, No. 4-seed Texas found itself on the wrong side of fate in its tilt with No. 5 seed Illinois, ending its quest at a repeat outside of Georgia. Illinois posted early wins from Thomas Detry and Charlie Danielson, then watched as Alex Burge, a sophomore who didn't break 80 in any round during the team's victory at the Fayetteville Regional, came through with an impressive 3-and-2 win over Cody Gribble to clinch a 3-2 team triumph and the school's best-ever finish at NCAAs
Illinois now faces California, a challenge that Illini coach Mike Small is looking forward to.
"It's going to be fun. There is no other word to describe it," Small said, noting how all five Cal players are ranked in the top 25 while his top player (2012 NCAA individual champion Thomas Pieters) is ranked 46th. "But you know what, it's golf, it's match play and we believe in ourselves and are going to enjoy ourselves and see what happens."
The only quarterfinal clash that lacked any real drama was No. 3 seed Alabama's 4-1 win over No. 7 New Mexico. Crimson Tide senior Scott Strohmeyer went 2-1 last year when his team lost in the finals to the Longhorns, and continued his match-play magic with a 4-and-3 victory over Benjamin Bauch. Teammates Justin Thomas, Bobby Wyatt and Cory Whitsett also won their matches as Alabama's quest to avenge its defeat in the championship match against Texas last year at Riviera CC continued.
__FRIDAY'S QUARTERFINAL RESULTS
1 California 3, #8 Arizona State 2
__Austin Quick (ASU) d. Michael Weaver (Cal), 1 up (19 holes)
Joel Stalter (Cal) d. Max Rottluff (ASU), 1 up
Max Homa (Cal) d. Trey Ka'ahanui (ASU), 3 and 2
Spencer Lawson (ASU) d. Michael Kim (Cal), 1 up
Brandon Hagy (Cal) d. Jon Rahm (ASU), 2 up
__#5 Illinois 3, #4 Texas 2
__Thomas Detry (Illinois) d. Julio Vegas (Texas), 1 up
Charlie Danielson (Illinois) d. Toni Hakula (Texas), 1 up
Brandon Stone (Texas) d. Thomas Pieters (Illinois), 2 and 1
Kramer Hickok (Texas) d. Brian Campbell (Illinois), 2 and 1
Alex Burge (Illinois) d. Cody Gribble (Texas), 3 and 2
__#2 Georgia Tech 3, #7 UNLV 2
__Carl Jonson (UNLV) d. Seth Reeves (GT), 4 and 3
A.J. McInerney (UNLV) d. Shun Yat Hak (GT), 2 up
Bo Andrews (GT) d. Nicholas Maruri (UNLV), 3 and 2
Ollie Schniederjans (GT) d. Kevin Penner (UNLV), 1 up (19 holes)
Anders Albertson (GT) d. Kurt Kitayama (UNLV), 2 and 1
__#3 Alabama 4, #6 New Mexico 1
__Bobby Wyatt (Alabama) d. Victor Perez (UNM), 2 and 1
Gavin Green (UNM) d. Trey Mullinax (Alabama), 5 and 4
Scott Strohmeyer (Alabama) d. Benjamin Bauch (UNM), 4 and 3
Cory Whitsett (Alabama) d. John Catlin (UNM), 5 and 4
Justin Thomas (Alabama) d. James Erkenbeck (UNM), 4 and 3
__SATURDAY'S SEMIFINAL MATCHES
Match 5 - #1 California vs. #5 Illinois
__10 a.m. - Michael Weaver vs. Thomas Detry
10:09 a.m. - Joel Stalter vs. Charlie Danielson
10:18 a.m. - Max Homa vs. Thomas Pieters
10:27 a.m. - Michael Kim vs. Brian Campbell
10:36 a.m. - Brandon Hagy vs. Alex Burge
__Match 6 - #2 Georgia Tech vs. #3 Alabama
__10:45 a.m. - Anders Albertson vs. Bobby Wyatt
10:54 a.m. - Shun Yat Hak vs. Trey Mullinax
11:03 a.m. - Bo Andrews vs. Scott Strohmeyer
11:12 a.m. - Seth Reeves vs. Justin Thomas
11:21 a.m. - Ollie Schniederjans vs. Cory Whitsett