By Jim Misunas
HUTCHINSON, Kan. — Talor Gooch’s match-clinching putt was a twisting double breaker at Prairie Dunes Country Club.
Gooch relied on a read by Brian Guetz, Oklahoma State assistant coach. The 35-foot twister bent to the left, then back to the right before dropping into the cup at No. 12, his third playoff hole against Stanford’s Maverick McNealy.
"I didn’t know what it was doing. It was a snake," Gooch said. "It broke two cups left up over a ridge and the last 10 feet it broke back to the right."
The putt helped Oklahoma State outlast stroke-play champion Stanford 3-2 and clinch a showdown with No. 1 ranked Alabama, the defending NCAA champion Wednesday at Prairie Dunes.
"That’s the best putt I’ve made," Gooch said. "At this stage and this time, considering these circumstances, nothing compares to it."
Several holes earlier, the Cowboys were in trouble. The Cardinal led three matches with NCAA champion Cameron Wilson and fellow All-American Patrick Rodgers, playing 4-under-par, virtually assured of two points. Wilson played even-par and beat Ian Davis 4 and 2. Rodgers played 4-under-par to beat Jordan Niebrugge, 2 and 1.
Oklahoma State had to sweep the other three matches.
Gooch started the Cowboys’ rally with a tying 40-foot par putt at No. 15 that prevented him from falling 2-down with three holes to play.
"I told my dad that putt at No. 15 was the one that won me the match," Gooch said. "Momentum is huge in match play, even halving a hole. It showed the next two holes when I birdied."
The day’s best match went Gooch’s way, who won five holes with birdies. He drained a 20-foot winning birdie at No. 16 and tapped in for birdie at the par 5 No. 17. Gooch had to work overtime when he bogeyed No. 18. McNealy bogeyed his second hole then played 1-under the rest of the day.
"It was a great feeling to come out on top," Gooch said. "That’s match play — that’s the national championship. You can’t expect anyone to mess up. You’ve got to go out and get it."
Oklahoma State has won 10 NCAA Golf Championships. Alabama beat Louisiana State 4-1 in the semifinals and Southern Methodist 3-2 in the quarterfinals. Tuesday’s matches were blessed by 80-degree temperatures and northeasterly winds of 5 to 10 mph.
"You come to Oklahoma State because Oklahoma State wins national championships," Gooch said.
Oklahoma State’s Wyndham Clark played 1-over and survived 1-up against Viraat Badhwar and Zachary Olsen played even-par and rallied to win four holes on the back nine for a 3 and 2 victory over David Boote. Clark gained an advantage when Badhwar missed on a make-able eagle putt at No. 17.
"I expected him to make it and when he missed it, it gave me a break," Clark said.
That left the stage for Gooch’s heroics.
"It was great theater out there — this is what you play for," said Oklahoma State coach Alan Bratton. "It was back-and-forth all day. It was a great match. Stanford has a great team and had a really good week. Our guys sucked it up and played great down the stretch. The strength of our team is our depth. It took all five of our guys. Everyone scored at least a point today."
Bratton played four times at Prairie Dunes when the Cowboys dominated the Big 8 Conference. His advice paid big dividends.
"Prairie Dunes is tremendous test of golf that tests all your senses," Bratton said. "You’ve got to control your trajectory and your spin and keep the ball below the hole. You’ve got to stay patient and stay right in the moment. You can’t jump ahead or look behind."
Bratton wants to see how the Cowboys match up against Alabama.
"Alabama has clearly been the best team the last couple of years," Bratton said. "It’s exciting. We’ve got a great opportunity tomorrow. It’ll be a great match and I want to see how our guys handle it."
Bratton’s predecessor at OSU Mike McGraw is now an assistant coach at Alabama.
Oklahoma State cruised past Georgia Tech 4-0-1 in the semifinals. Jordan Niebrugge played 6-under par to beat Seth Reeves, 2 and 1. Clark played 3-under-par and beat Anders Albertson 1-up. Davis played 3-under-par and halved with NCAA runner-up Ollie Schneiderjans. Olsen was 2-under-par and beat B Andrews 1-up. Gooch played 1-under-par and won 2 and 1 over Richy Wererski.
The Cowboys roared ahead to early leads in every match and never looked back in the quarterfinals.
"They played good and Georgia Tech has a really good team," Bratton said. "We knew it was going to be a tough match and we knew we had to get on top early and ride that momentum and that’s what we did so across the board, everyone did their job."
Bratton said the Cowboys respected Georgia Tech and played their best golf of the week.
"That’s why you have to get up early because Georgia Tech wasn’t going anywhere because they have a very good team and Bruce (Heppler) is a great coach," Bratton said.
"He’s a great friend and was an assistant coach at Oklahoma State when I played so we knew they would be ready and they know the golf course so you can’t ever look ahead. You just have to keep battling for everything and our guys did that so fortunately we came out on top."