HUTCHINSON — Cameron Wilson grew up dreaming about winning the NCAA Golf Championship in the most literal way possible. He fantasized about it the same way people think about walking on the moon or winning the lottery. It’s a dream, sure, but that’s all it is.
Yet, dream became reality for Wilson on Monday at Prairie Dunes Country Club when the Stanford senior shot a three-round score of 6-under par and beat Georgia Tech’s Ollie Schniederjans in a playoff.
Wilson raised his arms in triumph after sinking a 10-foot putt for birdie to clinch the individual trophy on the third playoff hole, No. 17, a par 5. He then wore oversized black glasses to a news conference as if he was a NBA all-star.
"It is a big honor to win this tournament and be on a distinguished list of champions, a few of which have been at Stanford," Wilson said. "I can think of Tiger (Woods) and Sandy Tatum off the top of my head. I’m sure there are a few more. This really is an honor."
It was a surreal moment, to be sure, considering Stanford golf coach Conrad Ray thought of him as a project when he was a freshman.
"I think Cameron is probably the most under-the-radar player here," Ray said. "He has had a great year, but not many people have been talking about Cameron Wilson. To see him pull off a victory today in the biggest championship that we know is really cool for Stanford, for our program and for all the hard work he has put in and the efforts he has made over the last four years.
"He has gotten a lot better … It has come with a lot of trials and tribulations and ups and downs. I remember where he was his freshman year. To see where he is now is pretty cool."
Wilson has methodically lowered his stroke average since arriving at Stanford, becoming a regular contributor behind Patrick Rodgers, whom most consider Stanford’s top player.
Wilson shot in the mid 70s as a freshman and now regularly shoots in the 60s. He fired rounds of 71, 63 and 70 to claim his trophy this week. The 63 ties Brian Campbell, of Illinois, for the lowest tournament round in course history from the back tees.
But his third round was equally important. Even par was a good score while facing pressure.
"I was a little nervous, but more than anything I was really excited," Wilson said. "I was excited for the opportunity and made it a point to enjoy the day. More than anything I was just enjoying the chance to win. Once I heard from coach that we were doing well on the team portion of things I didn’t really have a lot of pressure."
There were pressure-packed moments at the end, though. Wilson birdied the 17th hole to take a one-shot lead over Schniederjans, this year’s Air Capital Classic exemption, but he bogeyed the final hole. That sent them back to No. 18 for a playoff.
Both golfers traded pars on the first two playoff holes, before Wilson got up-and-down from the fairway for a birdie on the third playoff hole.
Wilson is a skilled ball-striker, and he proved that when it mattered most.
Of course, the tournament isn’t over for Wilson. Both he and Schniederjans will return to Prairie Dunes for the start of match play, which will feature the top eight teams.
The quarterfinals will begin at 7 a.m., with Alabama facing SMU, LSU taking on UCLA, Stanford going against Illinois and Georgia Tech playing Oklahoma State.
Dealing with the emotions of Monday’s playoff could be difficult for Wilson and Schniederjans on Tuesday, but neither player is concerned about that.
"I think I will be ready to go," Schniederjans said, "as soon as I get a good night’s sleep and have some breakfast tomorrow."
Stanford claimed the No. 1 seed by shooting 13 under during stroke play. Alabama and LSU were the only other teams to break par, at 4 under. Illinois and SMU tied for seventh at 5 over.
The winners will face each other in the semifinals starting at 1 p.m. Those winners will meet in the championship Wednesday.
No team seemed happier about making the top eight than Illinois. The Illini were on the outside looking in most of the tournament, but they closed out the day with a surge of birdies and one eagle. They went 5 under over their final four holes to pass South Carolina for the final match-play spot by a single stroke.
Teammates hugged Campbell when the round was over. His 63 not only matched the low round of the tournament, it helped Illinois advance.
"That is just awesome," Campbell said. "Coming in and seeing all the guys was an amazing experience. That last hour, watching all those teams come in, was pressure packed. It was fun to be a part of."
South Carolina golfers experienced different emotions. The Gamecocks went 5 over on their final two holes, taking themselves out of the championship equation after holding a first-round lead.
Still, the most dramatic moment of the day involved Wilson hoisting a trophy he had long dreamed of.
"I was just thinking about how cool it was," Wilson said. "It was a really cool scene."