The first foray into match play provided wild finishes, overwhelming pressure, high drama and crucial swings of momentum. And the final match has yet to be played.
First Arkansas David Lingmerth aced the third hole on the way to winning his match in the semifinals, helping the fourth-seeded Razorbacks beat giant-killer Georgia to earn a berth in the final.
Then Matt Van Zandt clinched the decisive point for Texas A&M by chopping a make-or-break wedge out of the high rough from 96 yards out to 15 feet from the pin, capping a day of heart-stopping action at Inverness Club.
This format is great! Van Zandt said seconds after a large gallery which had followed every tension-filled shot of the final hole had applauded both teams. And its not just great because were doing so well. This is why they did this format.
Boy, did the coaches get it right.
The day began with top-seeded Oklahoma State being stunned by eighth-seeded Georgia, which had finished 30 shots behind the Cowboys during the 54 holes of medal play that determined the eight teams in match play.
It ended with Van Zandt ' whose scores hadnt even been counted in the three medal-play rounds ' slashing a shot out of the high rough that saved the day for his team.
Ive loved it since the minute we came up with it, A&M coach J.T. Higgins said. Im a huge fan, I have been since day one. Its proven to be really exciting and a fantastic way to play the championship.
The Razorbacks beat eighth-seeded Georgia 3 1/2 -1 1/2 , and seventh-seeded Texas A&M edged sixth-seeded Michigan by the same score. The Razorbacks and Aggies are both seeking their first golf title.
Arkansas and A&M will meet for the title with 18 holes of match play Saturday.
Lingmerth, a junior from Sweden, holed a 7-iron from 202 yards to build a 2-up lead. He ended up with a 3-and-2 victory over Georgias Hudson Swafford.
Of course theres work left, Lingmerth said. We know that. Were happy now but we know theres one more day. We finished second the last five tournaments we played, so we just came to the conclusion that now were going to get No. 1.
Other winners for the Razorbacks included Jamie Marshall, 1-up over Adam Mitchell, and Jason Cuthbertson, 2-and-1 over Harris English. Georgias Russell Henley defeated Arkansas Ethan Tracy 2-and-1. Brian Harman, who had led Georgia to the upset of Oklahoma State, halved his match with Andrew Landry.
That set the stage for the white-knuckle finish.
A&M had won two matches, Michigan had won one and a fourth was all square as Van Zandt carried a 1-up lead to the 17th green. After Van Zandt barely missed a 12-foot birdie putt, Michigans Bill Rankin calmly rolled in a 10-footer for birdie to square the match while a partisan Michigan crowd cheered.
Both hit driver on the par-4 18th, with Rankins ball coming to rest a couple of feet above a deep fairway bunker set in the side of a hill. He had an awkward stance, and the ball was settled down in the deep rough at Inverness Club.
Hitting first, he punched the ball out but it hit on the back of the green and took one bounce into a bunker.
I hadnt really had one come out of the rough all week that wasnt soft, he said. That one came out fast. It didnt have any spin on it.
Van Zandt was 20 yards in front of him, with a better lie but still in the deep rough. He popped out a wedge that landed in the middle of the green and ended up below the hole, which was located on a shelf on the back right portion of the green. He pumped his fist and yelled, WOOO! when the ball stayed on the putting surface.
I would consider wedges to be the strongest part of my game, the senior said. Thats why I hit driver off the tee because I knew that if I was in the rough Id feel really comfortable hitting a wedge in. It was a 96-yard shot and my number was 90 that I was trying to hit it. When I hit it I knew it came out perfect. What else can I say?
Rankin blasted out of the bunker but his shot rolled past the pin and rolled off the severe side of the green and into deep rough. From there, he took another mighty swing, the ball catching the edge of the hole before running several feet past.
Rankin then conceded Van Zandts putt, giving the Aggies the third point they needed to advance.
In addition to Van Zandts 1-up win, teammates Andrea Pavan beat Alexander Sitompul 8-and-7 and Bronson Burgoon topped Lion Kim 4-and-3. The Wolverines lone point came from Nick Pumfords 2-and-1 victory over Conrad Shindler, with A&Ms John Hurley and Michigans Matt Thompson fighting to a draw.
The head-to-head struggles sapped everyone.
It was just mentally draining, Arkansas coach Brad McMakin said. The kids are doing OK. Their emotions are running so high. they dont feel it yet. Theyll hit the wall tomorrow when its all over with. Were just going on pure adrenaline. But it was a great afternoon.