Sooners second in Norman Regional, set sights on NCAA Championship
By Murray Evans
NORMAN – For a successful program like Oklahoma, NCAA regionals are the most anxiety-filled event in collegiate golf – play poorly, and a season’s worth of hard work can be wiped out in three days.
The margin of error can be excruciatingly small, with only five teams advancing from a regional into the NCAA National Championship. For a time on Wednesday at Jimmie Austin Golf Club, Oklahoma looked to be in danger of not advancing, but a late push by the Sooners secured a runner-up finish on their home course.
OU, with a three-round score of 839 (25-under-par) finished three shots behind Alabama, which secured that program’s fifth regional title. Two shots behind the Sooners was Colorado at 841, followed by Texas Tech (842), Duke (843) and North Florida (844), making the Ospreys the odd team out.
With their bid secured to the national tournament – set for May 26-31 at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. – the Sooners now can turn their focus to making the national match-play quarterfinals for what would be a record seventh straight time. OU’s run of six straight match-play berths already is a Division I record.
“They’ll be that much looser,” Oklahoma coach Ryan Hybl said. “Whenever you make it to finals, there’s already a looseness out there. It’s like, ‘This is it. This is all we’ve got.’ Getting to finals is that final hurdle that is so difficult to overcome. We’ve been thankful to be able to do it a lot of times, but every single time, I lose more hair and some years off my life.
“It’s about the journey that we’re on, and you’d hate for the journey to be cut off short. Whenever you get through (regionals), it’s a bit of a sigh of relief, because the journey continues on. This group can go do something phenomenal. They are good enough to go win a national championship.”
Oklahoma had both the individual runner-up in sophomore Drew Goodman, who finished at 13-under, and the third-place finisher in junior Ben Lorenz, who finished at 10-under. They trailed the world’s top-ranked amateur player, Ludvig Aberg of Texas Tech, who closed at 14-under 202.
Hybl thought his team, which entered the final round two shots behind Alabama, in second place, began its round Wednesday in exquisite fashion.
“The weather was dialed in this morning,” he said. “Jimmie was playing about as easy as you can get it, because the greens were perfect and soft. It was in great shape. But then all of a sudden…”
Indeed. Somewhere around hole No. 8, the Sooners lost their edge. Between there and No. 12, as Hybl said, “We looked like we didn’t know what we were doing.” During that stretch, all five OU players recorded at least one bogey and two of them (Patrick Welch and Jase Summy) combined for three double bogeys.
But as suddenly as they started skidding, the Sooners regained their equilibrium. Goodman played the final six holes in 3-under and finished at 5-under 67. Lorenz eagled No. 13 and had a key birdie on No. 17 to post OU’s low round on the day, a 66. Welch recovered to birdie No. 15 and No. 18 and salvaged a 72. Summy (71) and Jake Holbrook (74) also birdied 18, giving the Sooners some cushion.
OU’s final-round 276 team score tied for the third-lowest of the 14 teams in the regional, just one shot behind Alabama and Duke.
“I’m thankful for the dig-in and the grittiness of our guys,” Hybl said. “It’s always impressive to me when we can do that.”
Welch and Goodman said they were only vaguely aware of how tight the scoreboard was getting before the Sooners closed strong.
“Coach puts us through a lot of stress-testing, so when we come out here, we’re ready to go coming down the stretch,” Goodman said.
Goodman battled Aberg for individual honors through the final hole, with both birdieing No. 18. Aberg also shot a 67.
“It was interesting getting to play with somebody like that, because you know you have to elevate your game, which was super-fun for me, because we both played great today,” Goodman said. “I felt like I played really, really well. I am pretty gassed. I felt like I left it all out there.”
While Oklahoma’s run of six straight NCAA quarterfinal appearances is impressive, the Sooners have only one national title during that stretch, back in 2017. Having already won the Big 12 Conference title, Goodman and Welch – a redshirt senior and a veteran of many of those deep NCAA postseason runs – see no reason the Sooners can’t extend that streak.
“We definitely want to win a national championship,” Welch said. “We’ve been close the last couple of years but we just haven’t quite gotten through yet. We’ve been knocking on the door for quite a while now and we’re just ready to get back after it.
“We’re just hoping we’re clicking at the right time, which would be at Grayhawk. If we can all click at the same time, at the right time, then I think it can be really special.”