With the way he had been striking the ball, Austin Greaser didn't have too high of expectations entering one of the top events of the regular season.
The North Carolina junior, who was runner-up at last month's U.S. Amateur, had lost a gear with his swing in the lead-up to the Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational last weekend. He fought a double miss for three rounds at the Tar Heels' fall opener, the Rod Myers Invitational, yet managed to scrap out a T-13 finish. He then had a forgettable practice round last Thursday at Olympia Fields, a major-championship layout.
"If you watched me … nobody thought I was going to break 80," Greaser said.
But when the lights came back on Friday, something had clicked. After spending nearly two hours grinding on the range Thursday evening, Greaser fired three straight under-par rounds and recorded his first hole-in-one ever during Saturday's second round. The ace wasn't even the best shot he hit. Leading by a shot standing on the 18th tee, Greaser sliced one “miles right” into the trees and had to punch out sideways. He then grabbed 7-iron and took dead aim.
Playing alongside Arizona State's Cameron Sisk, who was gunning for back-to-back individual titles to open the fall, Greaser knew he needed to save par to have any shot at the medal.
“I was just trying to put the best swing on it that I could and give myself a realistic chance to make a four and slip away from a bad tee shot,” Greaser said.
With the final green appearing glossy because of the sun, Greaser had trouble seeing the ball as it landed and trickled toward the hole. A few seconds passed and Greaser reached for his bag. By the time he grabbed the strap, his teammates, who were gathered behind the green and saw the ball go in for a winning birdie, started going crazy.
“I had no idea,” Greaser said. “I knew it was on a good line and was probably going to be close, but I didn’t think it had any chance of going in. … I then start hearing the crowd behind the hole get louder and louder … and then it just erupted. I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t even see the ball go in.”
Greaser immediately joined them, chest bumping his head coach Andrew DiBitetto and then tossing his club.
“I don’t even remember hardly, the video explains it better than I do,” Greaser said.
North Carolina, ranked sixth in GolfChannel.com's preseason poll, won the team title by three shots over Arizona State (preseason No. 3). The Heels also finished nine shots better than Oklahoma State (No. 2), 16 ahead of Texas (No. 4) and 20 clear of Pepperdine (No. 1).
“We believe that we can be and we are the best team in the country, and that’s what we work for every day,” Greaser said. “We’re not going to go around acting like we’re No. 1, but we’re going to show up, do our homework beforehand and go play golf. … We can compete with anybody in the country. That’s not to say that there’s not maybe another No. 1 right now, but in our minds, we’re the best.”