FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – There will be no history made for Oklahoma State men’s golf this year.
Looking to become the first team to win back-to-back NCAA Division I national championships in program history, the Cowboys came one hole short of reaching Wednesday’s championship match with a 3-2 loss to Big 12 Conference rival Texas in Tuesday’s semifinals.
“It's kind of crazy. It's gone by so fast, but it's pretty crazy to look back at every tournament that we've won,” Cowboy junior Viktor Hovland said about the past two years. “I shouldn't say that we've gotten used to it, but it's been a hell of a ride. It sucks to not get this one, but it's been a cool two years.”
OSU had its sights set on returning to the final with senior Zach Bauchou heading to the 18th green leading 1 up in the deciding match against Steven Chervony. But an extra hole was needed when Chervony drained a 15-foot birdie putt to win the 18th and force a playoff.
Teeing up on No. 1, Bauchou’s drive soared past Chervony and both golfers landed their approach shots in the middle of the green. The OSU senior, who was ranked 63rd among college golfers by Golfstat.com, left his first putt short and Chervony, ranked No. 45 by Golfstat, made Bauchou take the four-foot par putt after the Cowboy had conceded Chervony's remaining par putt.
Bauchou, who was undefeated in match play in last year’s national championship, saw his short putt lip around the back of the hole and out to suffer his second loss of the day.
“I wouldn't want anybody else in that spot to make that putt,” Cowboy coach Alan Bratton said. “You don't see lip-outs like that very often. That was a wicked lip-out.”
Bauchou led for much of his match but never could get more than one hole up on Chervony, who took his first lead on the par-5 15th. The Cowboy responded by winning the next two holes to regain the lead before the dramatic finish on No. 18.
The pressure was on the OSU senior after Texas post lopsided victories for the first two points of the match.
Freshman Cole Hammer knocked off sophomore Matthew Wolff, who a day earlier had been crowned the NCAA individual national champion 4 and 3. And seconds later, senior Hayden Wood fell to Pierceson Coody 5 and 4.
That set up a need for a rally from OSU just to set up a playoff in the fifth match.
Hovland finally cracked Texas’ Spencer Soosman on the back nine – building as much as a three-hole lead – before winning 2 and 1. And sophomore Austin Eckroat followed with a 3 and 2 victory to improve his record to 5-0 in the NCAA championship match play format the past two years.
“Momentum is a crazy thing because it looked like we almost had it, standing on the fairway at 18 and then suddenly it just switches like that. You never know,” Hovland said.
But it all marked a bitter end to what was shaping up to one of the most dominating runs in college golf.
The Cowboys had earned the No. 1 seed for match play by beating the entire field by 31 strokes over four days of stroke play – which included four OSU golfers finishing in the top 15. It was the second-largest margin in stroke play competition in the history of the NCAA tournament – even going back to before it added the match play format in 2009.
The speculation is that only one Cowboy from this crew that won six tournaments this year, and 10 a year ago (or seven and 11 if you count finishing first in the stroke-play portion of the NCAA championship as some of the Cowboys have) will return next year.
Bauchou and Wood will graduate, while the expectation is Wolff and Hovland – two of the top four golfers in both the college and World Amateur Golf Rankings – will turn pro this summer.
“It's crazy that it's over. I'll be the one coming back next year to try to rally up some troops and do it (again),” Eckroat said. “But we'll see.”