Sunday, June 3, 2012
Texas men's golf team wins national title
By Carter Strickland
Light the tower.
Dust off the trophy shelf.
Texas is bringing home the hardware. Finally.
For the first time in four decades the Longhorn men's golf team has won the national title. Dylan Frittelli's 35-foot birdie on 18 at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles against Alabama clinched the title for Texas. Fitting setting, opponent and ending. After all it was in that town and against that opponent the Texas football team lost a title in 2009.
"I heard from Mack Brown last night,'' said Texas golf coach John Fields in a release. "He didn't win his last one against Alabama so he told us to go win today.''
For the Longhorns it was the first golf title since they went back to back with Ben Crenshaw in 1971-72. For the university it is only the second title in any sport in the last six years. Men's swimming won in 2010.
Julio Vegas clinched the NCAA Championship semifinal match for the Longhorns with a birdie putt against Oregon.
Not that the Texas players felt any pressure. Even before the team took off for LA, coach John Fields was confident in the demeanor and maturity of his team. They proved him to be prophetic after surviving the first three days of team stroke play followed by three days of match play. In match play Texas beat Washington and then Oregon to set up Sunday's final at Rivera Country Club. The match against Alabama pitted the No. 1 ranked Tide against the No. 2 Longhorns. It was the first time under the current match play format that the two top teams played against each other.
Aside from Frittelli, freshman Jordan Spieth and Cody Gribble also grabbed head-to-head wins Sunday. Spieth took a 3 and 2 win in the match play competition. Hakula finished one up over Bobby Wyatt.
"These guys had a lot of pressure and handled it well,'' Fields said.
The pressure was squarely on Frittelli as he stepped to 18. His match was all square. The overall match was also tied at two. The pressure lifted slightly when Cory Whitsett whiffed his chip from the fringe, giving Frittelli the green light to go for his putt.
"When I saw him miss it made it a little easier on me,'' Frittelli said. "But I still wanted to put it in.''
"I'm not as mad at that shot (the whiff) as the shots that led up to it,'' Whitsett said. "You can't be in that position. Dylan played great and I didn't take advantage of some opportunities.''
While the win will certainly be celebrated by the Longhorns, it also raises a few questions for this team. Spieth, the top freshman golfer in the country, stated his goal while in college was to win a team championship. Now that he has done that in his first year it could pave the way for his exit of college and entrance in to the pros.
Spieth said prior to the NCAA Championship that he was planning on coming back to Texas to compete in the fall. But the PGA Tour is also changing the way players qualify. Players will no longer qualify through Q School and instead have to earn their way onto the PGA Tour through Nationwide Events and sponsor exemptions.
Many college coaches feel this might pressure top players into leaving school early in order to get on the Nationwide Tour and be among the top 50 finishes from that tour who have a chance to make it on the PGA Tour.
But for now that issue is in the background as Texas, an athletic department that has been lauded as one of the best in the country, celebrates its only its third title since the football team on one of college sports biggest stages. (Women's indoor track grabbed the 2006 title.) Since that time Texas has watched as others -- most notably hated rival Texas A&M which has won eight titles over the past six years -- grabbed the glory.
"When you commit to play any sport at Texas you are committing to do everything you can to win a championship,'' Spieth said.