Sulman Raza delivers knockout blow to Illinois, sends Oregon to NCAA Championship finals

For the first time in a long time, Oregon men’s golf didn’t need Aaron Wise to put the team on his back.

Instead, redshirt junior Sulman Raza clinched Oregon’s spot in the the NCAA Championships team finals against top-seeded Texas after he sunk a par putt on the 18th hole to beat Illinois senior Charlie Danielson.

This came after Raza, a South Eugene High graduate playing in front of countless friends and family members, defeated another elite golfer, LSU freshman Sam Burns, in match play quarterfinals Tuesday morning. Oregon eventually knocked off defending-champion LSU 3-1-1 before defeating No. 2 seed Illinois 3-2 in the afternoon.

“It’s a good feeling when you can go out and take down two of the best players on LSU and Illinois,” Raza said. “Sam and Charlie are incredible players.”

The match between Raza and Danielson, the 2016 Big Ten Player of the Year, became dicey late in the back nine. Raza, similar to Wise yesterday, left his tee shot on the par-three 16th short into the water hazard. Raza double bogeyed the hole, and suddenly the match was all square.

On 17, Raza bogeyed but also benefited from Danielson’s double bogey, which gave Raza a one-stroke lead.

Then, approaching the 18th green, Raza landed in the bunker short right of the green, while Danielson positioned himself well on the green for a birdie attempt. Raza chipped out of the bunker, and his ball rolled back a few feet down the slope towards the pin.

Yet Danielson still had a chance to win it. Playing left to right, Danielson’s putt had the right line and appeared to be halfway down, but spun around the rim of the hole and out. Facing the biggest par putt of his life, Raza calmly stepped up to his shot and nailed it.

“[Head coach Casey Martin] said, ‘Back of the cup. Trust everything you’ve worked on the last four years of your life,'” Raza said. “To see that ball drop was a really good feeling.”

Had Raza missed the putt, Oregon would’ve had to depend on its individual national champion, Wise, who trailed Dylan Meyer by one stroke going into the 18th hole.

“My focus today was just to get this team to have a chance to win a national title tomorrow. I didn’t care how it was done,” Wise said. “That was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had, to sit on the fairway and just watch, instead of having to do it myself.”

The Ducks got their first point of the afternoon match when Edwin Yi jumped out to a huge lead against Edoardo Lipparelli of Illinois, and eventually won by a whopping five strokes.

Senior Zach Foushee, playing in his last college tournament for Oregon, followed suit with a five-stroke win over Nick Hardy.

“It was tremendous,” Martin said. “Just amazing for [Zach] as a senior to be able to do this. Edwin had one of the best shots to close out that match… Just special times.”

Thomas Detry gave Illinois its first point of the match, beating Thomas Lim by five strokes. Lim, who has battled flu-like symptoms the last few days, said afterwards that he still isn’t feeling 100 percent. Having to play a two-round, 36-hole doubleheader Tuesday made it that much tougher for him.

“It was a grind,” Lim said. “I made it through the first match, but the second match was a death march for me.”

Oregon faces a Texas squad that comfortably won its semifinal match against USC 4-1, but didn’t leave the day unscathed. The Longhorns’ best golfer and no. 4-ranked world amateur Beau Hossler injured his left shoulder while swinging on the par-four 17th.

The injury left him unable to swing with a wedge, so Hossler was forced to putt out of a bunker on his next shot. Remarkably, he salvaged par on the hole, defeating USC’s Andrew Levitt and clinching the win for his team in the process.

Despite the injury, Texas head coach John Fields, on the Golf Channel pairings show following the end of play, selected Hossler to play the No. 3 match against Foushee. Hossler’s status, however, isn’t set in stone.

“With the pairings and this, I haven’t had a chance to sit down and talk with anybody,” Fields said. “I know we’ll do the right thing for our student athlete. We’ll come out firing tomorrow, one way or another.”

If Hossler is unable to play Wednesday, Texas would have to forfeit the match.

Hossler didn’t comment on the nature of his shoulder injury, but said afterwards, “Obviously there’s some pain, but I’m gonna be fine.”

The matchup is a rematch of the 2012 NCAA Championships match play semifinals when Texas, led by then-freshman and current No. 2-ranked professional Jordan Spieth, knocked off Oregon 3-2 and went on to beat Alabama in the championship round. Four years later, the two teams are entirely different, but the talent and depth of Texas remains the same.

“Texas is unbelievable,” Martin said. “All those kids were top ranked in junior golf, and they’re all top ranked guys now. They’ve had an incredible tradition.”

The final round between Oregon and Texas starts Wednesday afternoon when Yi tees off against Texas’ Gavin Hall at 2:10 p.m. The rest of the pairings go as follows:

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Will Denner

Will Denner

Will Denner is a senior journalism major at the University of Oregon. He covers football and men's golf for the Emerald. Email Will at [email protected] with tips, questions and comments.