Oklahoma's Dalke lives the dream

By Ryan LavnerJune 1, 2017, 2:55 am

SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – He was just a kid, a 12-year-old who looked 18, who bled crimson, who wanted to make a national splash. So of course Brad Dalke was going to dream big.

“After he committed, he said, ‘I want to go to Oklahoma and help the team win a national championship,’” Dalke’s father, Bill, recalled with a chuckle Wednesday night. “And we were just like, Yeah, right, and patted him on the head.”

In the summer of 2010, Dalke was already 5-foot-8, 175 pounds, and the talk of the junior and college golf community, after the rising seventh-grader committed to play for Oklahoma. Dalke had unknowingly started a recruiting revolution, but to the family he was merely confirming a choice that seemed so obvious. After all, Bill was a linebacker on the Sooners’ national championship team in 1975. Brad’s mom, Kay, was a member of the Sooners’ first women’s golf team. And his grandfather, Ken Pryor, sank the game-winning basket to send the Sooners to the 1947 NCAA title game. Brad literally dreamed about the school – he had OU bed sheets.

That same year, Ryan Hybl was 10 months into his new gig as the head men’s coach at Oklahoma. The Sooners were ranked outside the top 100 in the country, and it would be a slow, steady climb to relevance. To some, Dalke’s commitment seemed like a publicity stunt, a cheap way to generate interest about the program, and Hybl was ripped by a few of his coaching peers.

But Hybl, himself a former junior star, was undeterred. “You could see the ‘it’ factor,” he said. “He just had it.”

And Dalke still does – the reason why Hybl put the now-19-year-old sophomore in the anchor position of Wednesday’s NCAA Championship final against Oregon.

Wearing an Oklahoma jersey – and no, he probably didn’t dream of those Nike blade collars back in 2010 – Dalke secured the clinching point as the Sooners knocked off defending champion Oregon, 3 ½ to 1 ½, to capture the school’s first NCAA title since 1989.

“A couple times this week, as I watched him walk down the fairway with his OU stuff on, I got a little emotional, because I knew that was his dream come true,” Kay Dalke said. “He’s living his dream, and there are so few that ever get to do that. How much better can it get?”

NCAA Division I National Championships: Articles, photos and videos

That Dalke was able to be a productive member of this NCAA title-winning squad was in question even a few months ago. Though a top prospect, he had struggled mightily with his game during his final year of junior golf and at times during his freshman season. It finally clicked last summer, when he reached the finals of the U.S. Amateur to earn an invitation to the Masters. That created its own challenges, as Dalke tried to prove to others, and maybe more so to himself, that he belonged.

“You’re scared to death that you’ll lay an egg on TV,” Bill Dalke said.

Instead, Brad performed admirably, missing the cut by only three shots and ranking highly in the strokes gained-tee to green statistics.

“It freed me up, knowing that it’s over,” he said, “but also confidence-wise, knowing that if I can play with the pros, I can play with the college guys.”

After failing to crack the top 10 all season, he posted back-to-back high finishes leading up to NCAA regionals, where he held off Stanford’s Maverick McNealy on the Cardinal’s home course to capture his first individual title. More importantly: Without Dalke’s 12-under total, the Sooners wouldn’t have advanced to nationals. “He toted us,” Hybl said. 

Oklahoma breezed through the stroke-play portion here at Rich Harvest Farms, earning the No. 2 seed and imbuing the coach with even more confidence.

Said Hybl’s wife, Becca: “He told me: ‘If we can get through the first match, then our boys are going to be able to run.’”

The Sooners trailed in all five matches on the back nine in their quarterfinal match Tuesday against Big 12 rival Baylor, only to flip the momentum late and win, 3-2. In the afternoon semifinals, they took care of Illinois to set up the championship match against Oregon.

Becca and the couple’s two young kids boarded a 5:45 a.m. flight out of Norman on Wednesday, but not before she fired off a text. It was a picture of a horse from the Disney movie “Secretariat,” with the message: “Let ’em, Ronnie! Let ’em run!”

And the Sooners soon scampered all over Oregon.

Just like in the semifinals, sophomore Blaine Hale raced out to an early lead and never looked back, crushing Norman Xiong (who earlier in the day had received the Phil Mickelson Award as the top freshman in the country), 4 and 3.

Then came Max McGreevy, the team’s senior leader who was under-recruited and undersized, a “2-star type of prospect” who became an All-American, rolling to a 3-and-2 victory.

All Oklahoma needed was to win one of the remaining three matches.

And so, fittingly, it came down to Dalke, who faced off against Sulman Raza, the hero from Oregon’s 2016 NCAA title who was 5-0 in NCAA match play.

“Coach knows I like the pressure and I want it,” Dalke said. “He put me in the anchor spot for a moment like this.”

He poured in a 25-footer on the 12th hole, then won Nos. 14 and 15 with par. The irony wasn’t lost on Dalke that his bogey on 17 was enough to clinch the title – he’d played the long par 4 in 12 over for the week.

“I think that’s my only good memory of the week there,” he said.

Every Oklahoma player earned at least one point this week, the kind of team effort that had been missing for the 17th-ranked team in the country.

One of the few weeks in which it had all come together was in mid-September, when the Sooners flew to a tournament in Minnesota without their coach. Hybl stayed back with Becca, after receiving the news that they’d lost their baby boy, Tucker Jackson, at 18 weeks.

With blue “TJH” ribbons on the players’ hats and golf bags, Oklahoma rallied to win the team title. All five players and assistant Jim Garren broke down in tears afterward, and Hybl later received the Inspiration Award at the Sooner Choice Awards banquet.

“I think it made our guys more emotionally attached to each other and to me,” Hybl said.

That helps explain the teary embrace with Becca, his high school sweetheart, and daughters Ady, 9, and Harper, 5. That explains why he buried his head in McGreevy’s chest, and why he choked up talking about junior Rylee Reinertson, who has been deaf since age 2, and why he swallowed Dalke, his first notable commitment and a seven-year project, in a bear hug.

“We were so excited about having a boy to add to our family,” Becca said. “But he has all of these boys. He has 10 boys at home that he gets to be with day in and day out. These guys fill his cup, and we’re so blessed for that. It’s a perfect end to the year.”

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”

Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.

Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)