TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Hands on his hips, Texas A&M’s Bronson Burgoon stood over a ball nestled deep in the rough and 120 yards from the hole.
Nothing much was riding on his next shot – just a national championship.
With one mighty hack, Burgoon gave Texas A&M its first national title in men’s golf. His gap wedge soared into the wind, landed on the green and tracked toward the hole before coming to rest just 3 inches away.
“I couldn’t have drawn it up any better,” the senior said, a wide grin plastered across his tanned face. “This is better than any dream I ever had in my life.”
Burgoon, the Aggies’ No. 1 player, had lost the previous four holes to Arkansas’ Andrew Landry before hitting from the deep rough far to the right of the 18th fairway.
Landry conceded the tap-in for birdie, then missed a 35-footer that finalized A&M’s 3-and-2 victory.
“He (Burgoon) pulled off the best shot of the tournament,” said heartbroken Razorbacks coach Brad McMakin.
With the match all square heading to the 18th, Landry – a good friend and occasional golf partner of Burgoon’s who is also from South Texas – drove into the middle of the fairway. Burgoon, as he did most of the back nine, drove far to the right into deep rough just above three deep pot bunkers on a hill bordering the edge of the fairway.
Landry spun a wedge just onto the green, the ball coming to rest on the first cut.
Burgoon walked up to take a look at the pin placement with his coach, J.T. Higgins, and sized up the shot.
Landry was watching from the fairway.
“Bronson’s a great player, first off,” he said. “Not only is he a great player, he’s strong. He had no problem all day getting out of the rough. I figured he’d get it on the green.”
Yeah, but not THIS close.
He muscled the gap wedge to the right-middle of the green, and the ball slowly trickled left down a slope toward the hole. As it rolled ever closer, a crescendo of cheers rose from the crowd.
“He’s a great performer and he came through in the end,” Higgins said.
His teammates jumped for joy and shouted as Landry conceded the birdie putt. Landry measured his lengthy birdie putt with his coach before rolling it left of the hole. Before it stopped rolling, the Aggies were jumping atop each other and slapping high-fives in celebration.
Texas A&M had qualified for the NCAA men’s tournament 23 times, but had never finished higher than fourth in 1982.
Andrea Pavan dominated from the start in beating David Lingmerth, 7-and-6. John Hurley also posted a quick win, beating Ethan Tracy, 6-and-4, for two lopsided A&M victories.
But then things tightened up when Arkansas’ Jamie Marshall defeated Conrad Shindler, 3-and-2. Jason Cuthbertson took a 3-and-1 victory over Matt Van Zandt, who was the star of A&M’s 3 1/2-1 1/2 victory over Michigan in the semifinals.
Burgoon led 2-up at the turn and built his advantage to 4-up through 13 holes. But then Landry began playing near-perfect golf and Burgoon seemed to find trouble off almost every tee.
At 14, 15 and 16, Landry put his drive in the fairway, knocked his approach on the green and hit two putts for par. On each of those holes, Burgoon was in the rough and made bogey.
At 17, Burgoon hit through the fairway and had an awkward stance, chopping the ball to just short of the green. But he chipped the ball 10 feet past the pin. Again Landry hit the green in regulation and made a routine par. Again Burgoon missed the par putt, forcing a showdown on the final hole.
Asked what was on his mind as he watched Burgoon’s lead melt away, Higgins started to laugh.
“I’m just hoping he pulls his head out,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Don’t be stubborn here, just hit the ball in the fairway. You don’t have to be great, you just have to be good.’ But the thing that makes him a great player is he’s got a little stubborn streak in him. He probably was saying, ‘This is the way I’m going to play it.’ That wasn’t working out at the time.”
Then came that magical swing.
“Right when it came off my club face I knew it was going to be good,” he said. “I just didn’t know how good. It ended up better than I could have imagined.”