CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Augusta State coach Josh Gregory looked at Taylor Floyd during the weather delay and told him he didn’t have to finish his last few holes when play resumed. Floyd was suffering from some sort of stomach bug and clearly looked miserable in the steamy Southern heat.
“He looked at me and said, ‘Coach, I wouldn’t miss this for the world,”’ Gregory said. “That shows his heart and his character.”
Floyd showed more than that on Saturday. He carried a lead for most of his match against Florida State’s Wesley Graham, hitting four birdies on The Honors Course, including one on the 18th hole that gave him a 2-up win and helped send Augusta State to its first NCAA Division I golf finals to face top-seeded Oklahoma State.
The No. 6 Jaguars clinched the match 4-1 when Henrik Norlander hit an 84-yard lob wedge for an eagle on the par-5 17th hole to win his match against Drew Kittleson 3 and 1. Carter Newman won Augusta State’s first match 4 and 3 over Michael Hebert. Seath Lauer got the Seminoles’ win, 4 and 3 over Mitch Krywulycz.
Augusta State, playing in its 11th NCAA tournament, will face an Oklahoma State program that has played in every tournament in the NCAA championship’s 64-year history and won 10 titles. The Cowboys last title came in 2006, while the Jaguars’ best finish was fifth in 2002.
“It is a story of David and Goliath,” Gregory said. “This is obviously our first time in this position, but I can promise you our guys will not be scared. I can promise you that they can believe they can win.”
Oklahoma State was the favorite in match play in last year’s tournament – the first to feature such a format – but got eliminated in the quarterfinals by fellow NCAA powerhouse Georgia. This year has been different, with the Cowboys cruising to a win over No. 8 Stanford in the quarterfinals and taking a 3 1/2 -1 1/2 victory over Oregon earlier Saturday.
Though Jack Dukeminier took the first match for the Ducks 4 and 3 over Sean Einhaus with the help of four birdies, Trent Whitekiller easily countered with a 5-and-4 victory over Isaiah Telles. Whitekiller led 7-up twice and maintained a lead through the whole match with seven birdies and an eagle on the par-5 second hole.
“I am looking back there and thinking, ‘Wow, what is going on?’ Whitekiller said. “I have hit the ball like that all season, just have not had that much luck. When you have a day when you are throwing it in from all over the green and getting the ball close to the hole you are going to have a pretty good result.”
The Cowboys seemed destined for an easy finish with their three remaining competitors holding a lead during a two-hour rain delay. It took a little longer after Oklahoma State’s Kevin Tway lost four straight holes to go 1-down to Andrew Vijarro, but Peter Uihlein and Morgan Hoffmann clinched with 3-and-2 victories over Daniel Miernicki and Eugene Wong. Tway and Vijarro halved their match.
Oklahoma State coach Mike McGraw, who was in his first year at the head of the program when the Cowboys won in 2006, said his players are aware of the expectations that come with the program. They also know those expectations won’t do anything to help them against the Jaguars.
“Nobody ever gives you anything,” he said. “Just because you’re from a school that’s had a tradition, that doesn’t give you anything. You’re not one-up on the first tee. You’ve got to go earn it. But that’s the beauty of our game. It doesn’t matter how good you are, last week is last week. This is it right now. And they’re not going to hand it to you.”