HUTCHINSON — College golf fans are about to get a rare treat.
The NCAA Golf Championship final match at 2:10 p.m. on Wednesday at Prairie Dunes Country Club will include the nation’s top-ranked teams.
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 Oklahoma State. The Crimson Tide will try to defend the national championship it won a year ago. The Cowboys will go for their 11th national title. It’s the equivalent of a heavyweight bout, the type of matchup that would make the BCS proud.
Still, it will take a special afternoon of golf to top the drama that unfolded Tuesday, with Alabama downing LSU 4-1 and Oklahoma State knocking off Stanford 3-2 in the semifinals after an entertaining morning of quarterfinals.
“This is exciting,” Oklahoma State coach Alan Bratton said. “That’s what you play for is an opportunity like that. It took all five of our guys. That has been the strength of our team all year, the depth. Everybody up here got a point in one of the matches and some of the guys got two. It is awesome to see them step up on a big stage.”
The Cowboys did more than step up. They defeated the Cardinal, which outplayed everyone in stroke play, behind big shots from Talor Gooch, Wyndham Clark and Zachary Olsen.
Gooch provided the most highlights, overcoming a late one-hole deficit with birdies on Nos. 16 and 17 to force a playoff against Stanford’s Maverick McNealy. He then drained a 35-foot putt for birdie over a ridge on the third playoff hole to clinch a trip to the final for the Cowboys.
The pressure was on, but you wouldn’t have known it.
“I had pressure from the beginning, but that is what I wanted,” Gooch said. “That is why coach sent me out first. He expected me to go out there and take the lead and get some confidence in the boys behind me, knowing that I was going to get them a point. It took a little longer than I wanted it to, but I was glad I was able to get out there and get the win.”
He did most of his damage on the greens.
“He’s a streaky putter, but when he gets going he doesn’t miss,” said Oklahoma State assistant Brian Guetz. “He really had it going at the end.”
He likely gained some national attention in the process. After a birdie putt on No. 16, Gooch paid tribute to one of his favorite football players by rubbing his fingers together and copying Johnny Manziel’s famous money rub.
Much like Manziel, he planned the celebration ahead of time.
“It was pure excitement,” Gooch said. “It was pure joy.”
Alabama experienced a similar thrill earlier in the afternoon when it sent LSU home in less dramatic fashion.
Bobby Wyatt won his match before the 17th hole and Trey Mullinax eliminated Curtis Thompson 4&2.
Alabama won this tournament last year and finished second in 2012. It’s goal all season has been to repeat.
“It certainly helps to know in the back of our mind that we have done it before,” Wyatt said. “It takes some pressure off knowing that you already have one. But we also know what it feels like to lose. Losing to Texas a couple years ago still stings. We don’t want to go through that again.”
Oklahoma State will also be motivated. The Cowboys have a long history of championship success, winning 10 titles from 1963-2006.
“You come to college wanting to win a national championship,” Gooch said. “That is why you come to Oklahoma State, because Oklahoma State wins national championships … If you don’t win a national championship in four years at Oklahoma State it is a disappointment. We want to make sure we are not a disappointment.”
Winning a matchup of the two best teams in college golf will take care of that.
“We have been talking all year about how it was going to come down to us and Alabama,” Oklahoma State senior Ian Davis said. “Tomorrow is going to be a special day. It is what we came to college for.”