In his last event before turning pro, Oregon sophomore Aaron Wise picked up the biggest win of his amateur career.
Wise shot 1-over 71 Monday at Eugene Country Club, Oregon's home course, to win the NCAA Men’s Individual Championship by two shots over USC's Rico Huey.
Up two to start the day and up four at the turn, Wise suddenly found himself tied for the lead with Oklahoma’s Mattias Schwab as he walked to the 17th tee following a pair of double bogeys at Nos. 12 and 16.
Spurred on by his local fans, Wise ripped a driver, found the green and faced the putt that would ultimately secure him the national title.
“I told [assistant coach Van Williams], ‘When I make this thing, it’s going to be a roar,'” Wise recounted after the round.
He did, and it was.
Wise poured in the putt to get back to 5 under the championship, a score that would hold up as Wise watched his challengers finish their rounds from the clubhouse.
With the win, Wise became the first individual champion in Oregon golf history.
When asked if his birdie putt on 17 was the biggest he’s ever made: “Yeah, for sure,” he answered. “It was one of those putts that I struggled to read, and I called in Van there, and he settled me down and said, ‘You’ve got to trust what you do.’
“Obviously I read it right and when that thing went in I kind of let out some emotion.”
The celebratory fist pump was a sign of how close Wise came to coming up short. After making four birdies across a front-nine 34, Wise looked as if he would walk to finish, but the first double at 12 and a trip into the water at the par-3 16th quickly put the outcome in doubt.
Luckily, Wise was able to calm himself enough to rebound with that decisive birdie at 17.
“That’s just something I’ve always worked on is bounce back,” Wise said. “I call it the bounce-back stat, and I think I’m pretty good at it, and I did it again when I made another mistake on the other par-3. It’s something I’ve worked on since I was a little kid and it showed today."
Rather than feeling more pressure to close, Wise said playing on his home track and in front of a friendly crowd was actually a blessing.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of tough rounds before; it was actually easier, if anything, than hard. Having these people out here to cheer me on and root me on is something that I cherished and looked forward to today.”
With the individual championship in his grasp, Wise will begin his professional career once the team championship is over. But for now, he’s got at least one more day - maybe two more days - as a Duck.
“Knowing this is my last event in front of my teammates, my family, my friends, it’s hard,” Wise said. “My family came up just because this was my last event, and all that brings pressure. … There was a ton of pressure on me today, and I was happy with the way I was able to calm down before the round and go out there and execute.”