Following the first round of stroke play at the NCAA Championship, Oregon was in 19th place. Forty-eight hours later, this became a cute story when the Ducks made the 15-team cut. A day later, they found a way into the top-eight and the quarterfinals of match play. On Wednesday, Oregon plays for the NCAA title on its home course.
In the immortal words of Ron Burgundy, “boy, that escalated quickly.”
Oregon ousted 2015 champion LSU, then clipped perennial powerhouse Illinois in the semifinals to march on at Eugene Country Club. The Ducks will square off against top-seed Texas and are looking to become the second men’s team in history to win the individual and team title as host of the event. Sophomore Aaron Wise collected medalist hardware a day earlier.
“Our work is not done,” Oregon coach Casey Martin said, “but this really feels great.”
That’s just one side of the equation.
Texas has a load of drama on its side as well. And it’s not the kind anyone wearing burnt orange would ever think could happen.
Beau Hossler, the Longhorn’s best player all year and five-time tournament winner, struggled to finish his semifinal match against USC’s Andrew Levitt when he injured his shoulder hitting a 4-iron from 228 yards into the 15th green.
The junior was in extreme pain over the next couple holes and nearly forfeited his match. But he gutted out the par-5 17th hole, dumped his second shot into the greenside bunker, putted (yes, putted!) out of the bunker, then made an incredible, downhill, sliding 30 footer for par to win the match 2 and 1.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that, even though Hossler wasn’t too forthcoming with information, his coach John Fields made it seem like it’d be a minor miracle if Hossler could tee it up for the championship match. (Later, Hossler tweeted: “Thank you for all the love and support. I will be fine. Looking forward to tomorrow.”)
“Our kids will regroup, they’re tough kids,” Fields said. “We’ll give Oregon everything they want tomorrow if it’s four guys or five guys.”
Texas, in search of its fourth national title, is looking to make a little history itself, as the No. 1 seed hasn’t won this championship since the format changed to match play in 2009.
In any other scenario, Texas would be the overwhelming favorite in this championship match. The Longhorns, who beat Oklahoma and USC to get to the championship match, have won seven times this year and have more talent than Oregon from top to bottom. However, the Ducks, only a winner of one tournament this year, is on this spectacular role on its home course with top-Duck, Wise, seemingly unbeatable.
Common belief was that Fields would try his best to get Hossler into a match against Wise. It makes sense for so many reasons. Most think that Wise would win his match against any opponent so put the injured man against him and try to win three of the remaining four matches.
It didn’t work out that way. After Fields put sophomore Scottie Scheffler out in the second position, Martin countered with Wise. Instead, Hossler is in the third match against senior Zach Foushee, an Oregon native.
Wise and Hossler have been the two biggest headlines all week and it seems like both will factor heavily in the final outcome, for better or worse.
“Certainly it’s a fairytale,” Martin said. “It’s going to be a lot of nerves.
“Hopefully we finish this in style, but regardless, whatever happens tomorrow it’s been an amazing week.”