Oklahoma's Dalke lives the dream

By Ryan LavnerJune 1, 2017, 2:55 am

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.”

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Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 12:25 am

ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.

Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.

''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''

The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.

Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship

Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.

Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.

''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''

Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.

First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.

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Henley will try to put heat on Casey in final round

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:55 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While it will be a tall task for anyone to catch Paul Casey at the Travelers Championship, the man who will start the round most within reach of the Englishman is Russell Henley.

Henley was in the penultimate group at TPC River Highlands on Saturday, but he’ll now anchor things during the final round as he looks to overcome a four-shot deficit behind Casey. After a 3-under 67, Henley sits at 12 under through 54 holes and one shot clear of the three players tied for third.

Henley closed his third round with a run of five straight pars, then became the beneficiary of a pair of late bogeys from Brian Harman that left Henley alone in second place.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

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“Could have made a couple more putts, but to end with two up-and-downs like that was nice,” Henley said. “I felt a little bit weird over the shots coming in, put me in some bad spots. But it was nice to have the short game to back me up.”

Henley has won three times on Tour, most recently at the 2017 Houston Open, and he cracked the top 25 at both the Masters and U.S. Open. But with Casey riding a wave of confidence and coming off an 8-under 62 that marked the best round of the week, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him in order to nab trophy No. 4.

“I think I can shoot a low number on this course. You’ve got to make the putts,” Henley said. “I’m definitely hitting it well enough, and if I can get a couple putts to fall, that would be good. But I can’t control what he’s doing. I can just try to keep playing solid.”

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Back from back injury, Casey eyeing another win

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:36 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Given his four-shot cushion at the Travelers Championship and his recent victory at the Valspar Championship, it’s easy to forget that Paul Casey hit the disabled list in between.

Casey had to withdraw from The Players Championship because of a bad back, becoming the only player in the top 50 in the world rankings to miss the PGA Tour’s flagship event. He flew back to England to get treatment, and Casey admitted that his T-20 finish at last month’s BMW PGA Championship came while he was still on the mend.

“I wasn’t 100 percent fit with the back injury, which was L-4, L-5, S-1 (vertebrae) all out of place,” Casey said. “Big inflammation, nerve pain down the leg and up the back. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Thanks in large part to a combination of MRIs, back adjustments and anti-inflammatories, Casey finally turned the corner. His T-16 finish at last week’s U.S. Open was the first event for which he felt fully healthy since before the Players, and he’s on the cusp of a second title since March after successfully battling through the injury.

“We thought we were fixing it, but we weren’t. We were kind of hitting the effects rather than the cause,” Casey said. “Eventually we figured out the cause, which was structural.”

Casey started the third round at TPC River Highlands two shots off the lead, but he’s now four clear of Russell Henley after firing an 8-under 62 that marked the low round of the week.

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Bubba thinks he'll need a Sunday 60 to scare Casey

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:15 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Perhaps moreso than at most PGA Tour venues, a low score is never really out of reach at TPC River Highlands. Positioned as a welcome change of pace after the U.S. Open, the Travelers Championship offers a lush layout that often pushes the balance much closer to reward than risk.

This is where Jim Furyk shot a 58 on the par-70 layout two years ago – and he didn’t even win that week. So even though Paul Casey enters the final round with a commanding four-shot lead, there’s still plenty of hope for the chase pack that something special could be in store.

Count Bubba Watson among the group who still believe the title is up for grabs – even if it might require a Herculean effort, even by his standards.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

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Watson has won the Travelers twice, including in a 2015 playoff over Casey. But starting the final round in a large tie for sixth at 10 under, six shots behind Casey, he estimates that he’ll need to flirt with golf’s magic number to give the Englishman something to worry about.

“My 7 under yesterday, I need to do better than that. I’m going to have to get to like 10 [under],” Watson said. “The only beauty is, getting out in front, you have a chance to put a number up and maybe scare them. But to scare them, you’re going to have to shoot 10 under at worst, where I’m at anyway.”

Watson started the third round three shots off the lead, and he made an early move with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 en route to an outward 32. The southpaw couldn’t sustain that momentum, as bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 turned a potential 65 into a relatively disappointing 67.

“Bad decision on the par-3, and then a very tough tee shot for me on 17, and it just creeped into the bunker,” Watson said. “Just, that’s golf. You have mistakes every once in a while.”