SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – Vanderbilt coach Scott Limbaugh rubbed the back of his neck, paced the 18th green, blinked back tears, and tried to comprehend how his top-seeded Commodores, the team he had spent the past five years building, had been eliminated from the NCAA Championship.
“It really hurts,” he said after his team lost to defending national champion Oregon, 3-2, in the semifinals Tuesday afternoon at Rich Harvest Farms. “I had a really special team.”
No top seed on either the men’s or women’s side has ever gone on to win the national title in 12 attempts. This early exit was particularly cruel, after Vanderbilt won the stroke-play portion by 12 shots, the largest margin of victory in that format since 2001.
That didn’t mean much come Tuesday morning, when the Commodores clipped UNLV, 3-2, and then had a down-to-the-wire match against Oregon.
The Ducks put two points on the board early, after their best players, Wyndham Clark and Norman Xiong, won their matches decisively. Then, on Vandy’s side, Theo Humphrey cruised to a 5-and-4 win and freshman John Augenstein capped his star-making season with a comeback victory in 19 holes.
That put the pressure squarely on Vanderbilt’s leader, senior Matthias Schwab, the fifth-ranked amateur in the world.
“That’s what you want,” Limbaugh said.
All square with seven holes to play against Oregon’s Sulman Raza, who clinched the NCAA title a year ago, Schwab made bogey on 12 to lose the hole, then couldn’t convert birdie chances on 16 and 17. One down on the par-5 18th, Schwab hit an 8-iron from 186 yards but flew the green long and left, leaving a difficult pitch shot that he couldn’t get close. Raza two-putted for par to close out the match, 2 up.
It’s the end of an era for Vanderbilt. Schwab, who helped put the program on the map, is headed to Europe to start his professional career, while the team’s assistant coach, Dusty Miller, is leaving to become the head coach at Mississippi State.
“That’s athletics,” Limbaugh said. “That’s why we do it. You come here and know that only one team is leaving with the trophy, and everybody else is leaving like we are right now. I don’t know if everybody hurts like we do, though, because we had a really good team.”
In the other semifinal, Illinois lost to Oklahoma, 3-1-1. The Illini, back in match play for the fifth consecutive year, lost the first three matches and didn’t get a chance to have their stars, Dylan Meyer and Nick Hardy, factor in the final outcome.