ATLANTA – To play off a line from Texas’ fight song, the eyes of Texas – and really the entire country – have been upon the Longhorns all fall, and the preseason No. 1 has mostly underperformed.
That changed Wednesday at the East Lake Cup, where the Longhorns showed the type of fight expected of them entering the season, beating Oklahoma State, 3-2, in the final.
“It wasn’t make or break for us, but this win was greatly needed,” said Texas sophomore Cole Hammer. “Obviously we didn’t play well leading up to this tournament, so it was good to see it all come together.”
Texas entered its fall finale ranked No. 26 in Golfstat with disappointing ninth-place finishes at Olympia Fields and Isleworth. But the Longhorns fired a dazzling 10 under in Monday’s stroke-play round and then cruised past Vanderbilt in the semifinal.
Taking down the Cowboys proved much tougher, even with Oklahoma State a shell of the juggernaut team that Texas upset in last spring’s NCAA semifinal. Cowboys freshman Brian Stark put an early point on the board against All-American sophomore Pierceson Coody and junior standout Austin Eckroat topped Hammer in the anchor match.
That meant that Texas would have to earn a victory despite losses by its two best players.
Sophomore Parker Coody and senior Spencer Soosman each got the job done, setting the stage for Texas’ prized freshman Travis Vick in the penultimate match opposite Oklahoma State freshman Rayhan Thomas.
Like his team, Vick has been slow to start this fall. He did go 4-1 at the Big 12 Match Play, but Vick had yet to crack the top 25 in two stroke-play starts leading into East Lake. He missed the lineup altogether for the Nike Collegiate.
Yet Vick looked like one of the best players in college golf over three days in Atlanta. He shot 3-under 69 in stroke play before chipping in to beat Vanderbilt stud John Augenstein in 19 holes. He then held on to beat a charging Thomas with a clutch par on the par-5 18th hole.
“You love to have your freshmen in there and you love to have them have that experience and you love for it to be positive,” Fields said. “Turns out this time it was.”
Very much so. Despite drawing a wicked lie in the rough off the tee and muscling a 7-iron over the water but into another tricky spot, Vick hit an impressive wedge shot from the wet rough – and in torrential rain – to the thick part of the green at the finishing hole and then lagged his birdie try about 5 feet past.
Thomas, meanwhile, gave himself a 10-foot look at birdie, needing to win the hole to extend the match. After he missed, Vick stepped up, dripping wet, and sunk the winning putt.
“It was great to see Travis bursting out and playing so great,” Hammer said. “Get ready, he’s a great player. I’m looking forward to seeing what he’s got in store the rest of the year.”
The same can be said for Texas. It had been a lackluster fall results-wise for the Longhorns, but this is a team that also hadn’t been at full strength until this week. Hammer missed an event to play the Houston Open. Pierceson Coody didn’t play last week at Tavistock because of a left shoulder strain. Soosman had been in and out of the lineup.
“This is the first time we’ve had this team together,” Fields said. “But we’ve got a ways to go. We’ve done some really cool things with this team already, and last year was sensational at the end, but we’re not the type of team just yet that we really want to be.”
As the fight song says: Hail, hail, the gang's all here.
But come late May in Arizona, will it be goodbye to all the rest?
“If we play to our talent level,” Vick said, “I like our chances.”