Another day and another match rally later, the fate of Oregon men’s golf’s season once again fell on Sulman Raza and his putter.
This time, against top-seed Texas in the NCAA Championships match finals at Eugene Country Club on June 1, 18 holes wasn’t enough to decide the match between Raza and Texas’ Taylor Funk. Both players battled into a three-hole, sudden-death playoff.
Ultimately, Raza prevailed over Funk by dropping a six-foot birdie putt on the 10th green. The win gave Oregon a 3-2 victory over Texas as well as its first national championship in program history.
The moment was surreal for both Raza and head coach Casey Martin, who walked the course with Raza during the latter stages of the round. Not only was Raza playing the highest-stakes match of his life against Funk, he was doing it in front of a crowd of several hundred, many of whom were either Oregon fans or knew Raza when he was a state champion golfer at South Eugene High.
The crowd, which rivaled few others at previous college golf matches, according to Martin, sprinted back and forth between the 10th and 18th holes, where the playoff alternated. When Raza and Funk approached each green of the playoff, fans ducked under ropes and watched intently from the fairway.
“Just having everybody rushing the green, circling the fairway, it felt like a movie,” Raza said.
Raza had a golden opportunity to put the match away on the first hole of the playoff, but missed his putt just right of the hole.
Then, going back to 18 on the next hole, Raza’s approach shot landed 20-25 feet from the pin, while Funk landed within five. Texas was one putt away from snatching the championship out of Oregon’s control. But Funk misread the putt, and it veered right of the hole.
Raza got the rare opportunity of playing the 10th twice in the span of three holes. Consider it a mulligan.
This time, he made the putt from the same distance he was unable to the first time, resulting in his teammates swarming him moments later.
— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) June 2, 2016
“That pile we got into on the last green with Sulman is something I’ll never forget,” Aaron Wise said. “It was just raw emotion.”
In bizarre fashion, Oregon got its first point of the match before either team teed off. Beau Hossler, who injured his shoulder late in Texas’ semifinal match against USC Tuesday, May 31, was unable to play his match against Ducks senior Zach Foushee. Texas was forced to forfeit the match and the point, which also meant Foushee couldn’t play.
“I was obviously bummed,” Foushee said. “I mean, it’s my senior year … But a point for the Ducks got us here, so I’m happy it ended the way it did.”
Freshman Edwin Yi continued his steep freshman year trajectory, giving the Ducks their first earned point of the afternoon. Yi jumped to a three-hole lead on the back nine before taking down Gavin Hall 4&3. He flirted with a hole-in-one on the par-four, 350-yard 8th hole, driving a shot right down the middle of the green that eventually went long.
“That kid just had a confidence and swag that I hadn’t seen before,” Oregon assistant coach Van Williams said.
Then there was Wise, playing his last round for Oregon. Texas sophomore Scottie Scheffler pushed Wise throughout, jumping out to an early lead on the third hole that he never gave up. The two battled through 15 holes, but Scheffler ultimately took the match 4&3.
Wise’s week included an individual and team championship, both of which give him plenty of exposure as he begins playing the PGA Canada Mackenzie Tour in June.
“This young man is going to be playing a lot of golf for a long time, and I can’t wait to watch him,” Martin said. “I’m bummed he’s leaving, but he needs to go.”
Thomas Lim, playing in the last match of the finals against Doug Ghim, had one of his better outings of the week, but ultimately Ghim evened the match 2-2 for Texas.
For Martin and the Ducks, this championship was the culmination of a year and half of high expectations set on them. From the time Eugene Country Club won the host bid in the fall of 2014 to NCAA Regionals earlier in May, pressure was a central topic of conversation for the Ducks.
“It was real and it was significant, but it also galvanizes everybody and gets you focused because it’s like, we’ve got to perform,” Martin said.
The home course advantage certainly played a factor in Oregon’s win. But playing a deep Texas team, even without Hossler, still presented the Ducks their biggest challenge of the season. And they delivered.
“We didn’t lose this golf tournament. They won it,” Texas head coach John Fields said. “I’m excited for them.”
Follow Will Denner on Twitter @Will_Denner