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.”

Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


FALLING

J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

"Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

"The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

"Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

Class of 2011: The groups before The Group

By Mercer BaggsNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

We’ve been grouping things since the beginning, as in The Beginning, when God said this is heaven and this is earth, and you’re fish and you’re fowl.

God probably wasn’t concerned with marketing strategies at the time and how #beastsoftheearth would look with a hashtag, but humans have evolved into such thinking (or not evolved, depending on your thinking).

We now have all manner of items lumped into the cute, the catchy and the kitschy. Anything that will capture our attention before the next thing quickly wrests said attention away.

Modern focus, in a group sense in the golf world, is on the Class of 2011. This isn’t an arbitrary assembly of players based on world ranking or current form. It’s not a Big Pick A Number.

There’s an actual tie that binds as it takes a specific distinction to be part of the club. It’s a group of 20-somethings who graduated from high school in the aforementioned year, many who have a PGA Tour card, a handful of who have PGA Tour wins, and a couple of who have major titles.

It’s a deep and talented collective, one for which our knowledge should continue to expand as resumes grow.

Do any “classes” in golf history compare? Well, it’s not like we’ve long been lumping successful players together based on when they completed their primary education. But there are other notable groups of players, based primarily on birthdate, relative competition and accomplishment.

Here’s a few on both the men’s and women’s side:

BORN IN 1912

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Feb. 4, 1912 Byron Nelson 52 5
May 27, 1912 Sam Snead 82 7
Aug. 13, 1912 Ben Hogan 64 9

Born six months within one another. Only a threesome, but a Hall of Fame trio that combined for 198 PGA Tour wins and 21 majors.


BORN IN 1949

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 4, 1949 Tom Watson 39 8
Dec. 5, 1949 Lanny Wadkins 21 1
Dec. 9, 1949 Tom Kite 19 1

Only 96 days separate these three Hall of Fame players. Extend the reach into March of 1950 and you'll get two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North.


BORN IN 1955

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 30, 1955 Curtis Strange 17 2
Jan. 30, 1955 Payne Stewart 11 3
Feb. 10, 1955 Greg Norman 20 2

Another trio of Hall of Fame players. Strange and Stewart were born on the same day with Norman 11 days later. Fellow PGA Tour winners born in 1955: Scott Simpson, Scott Hoch and Loren Roberts.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1956-57

Birthdate Player LPGA wins Major wins
Feb. 22, 1956 Amy Alcott 29 5
Oct. 14, 1956 Beth Daniel 33 1
Oct. 27, 1956 Patty Sheehan 35 6
Jan. 6, 1957 Nancy Lopez 48 3

A little arbitrary here, but go with it. Four Hall of Famers on the women's side, all born within one year of each other. That's an average (!) career of 36 tour wins and nearly four majors.


EUROPE'S BIG 5

Birthdate Player Euro (PGA Tour) wins Major wins
April 9, 1957 Seve Ballesteros 50 (9) 5
July 18, 1957 Nick Faldo 30 (9) 6
Aug. 27, 1957 Bernhard Langer 42 (3) 2
Feb. 9, 1958 Sandy Lyle 18 (6) 2
March 2, 1958 Ian Woosnam 29 (2) 1

The best 'class' of players Europe has to offer. Five born within a year of one another. Five Hall of Fame members. Five who transformed and globalized European golf.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1969-70

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 12, 1969 Angel Cabrera 3 2
Oct. 17, 1969 Ernie Els 19 4
May 12, 1970 Jim Furyk 17 1
May 12, 1970 Mike Weir 8 1
June 16, 1970 Phil Mickelson 42 5

Not a tight-knit group, but a little more global bonding in accordance to the PGA Tour's increased international reach. Add in worldwide wins – in excess of 200 combined – and this group is even more impressive.


BORN IN 1980

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 9, 1980 Sergio Garcia 10 1
July 16, 1980 Adam Scott 13 1
July 30, 1980 Justin Rose 8 1

Could be three future Hall of Fame members here.

Editor's note: Golf Channel's editorial research unit contributed.