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Oklahoma's Dalke lives the dream

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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?”

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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.”