STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) – Alabama didn’t look poised to win a third national title in six years. Once match play began, the Crimson Tide found another gear.
Tide freshmen Wilson Furr and Davis Shore won both their matches Tuesday, and Alabama swept Duke in the semifinal to reach the final against Oklahoma State in the NCAA men’s golf championship.
Now comes the hard part: Beating the Cowboys, the No. 1 team in college golf, on their home course at Karsten Creek.
“We realize that tomorrow we’re going to hit a lot of good shots and won’t hear a single thing except for maybe a mom and a dad,” Alabama coach Jay Seawell said. “So I know that’s coming, and there’s nothing wrong with it. That’s what makes it great.”
Oklahoma State freshman Austin Eckroat made a 6-foot birdie on the final hole Tuesday morning to send the Cowboys into the semifinals, and he won the decisive match in the afternoon in a 3-2 victory over Auburn.
The Cowboys have 10 NCAA titles, second only to Houston, but their last title was in 2006 when it was stroke play. Since the team competition switched to match play in 2009, the Cowboys have twice been runner-up, including 2014 to Alabama at Prairie Dunes in Kansas.
“We had several goals,” Oklahoma State coach Alan Bratton said. “We got the first one – we got through stroke play. We won our first match, we won the second match. So that is three down. Obviously, we can finish off the ultimate goal tomorrow.”
Alabama was happy just to be among the eight teams to advance out of four rounds of stroke play. None of its five players finished the 72-hole portion under par. None finished among the top 20 in the individual standings.
Match play has been different.
“This is a totally different golf tournament. We start at zero, and the game plan changes,” said Jonathan Hardee, a 3-and-2 winner in his match against Duke. “We play one hole at a time, and every hole is basically a round of a boxing match, and you’re just trying to win as many rounds as you can and see who comes out on top.”
It was a knockout against Duke, which advanced to the semifinals by beating Texas.
Shore needed only 13 holes to beat Jake Shuman. Furr, who won in 12 holes in his match against Texas Tech, closed out Evan Katz of Duke on the 17th hole. Lee Hodges and Jonathan Hardee each won, 3 and 2. Davis Riley won the clinching match, 3 and 2, over Adrien Pendaries.
The Cowboys will try to become the second team in three years to win the NCAA title on its home course. Oregon won at Eugene Country Club in 2015.
Oklahoma State had a tight match in the morning against Texas A&M. The Cowboys had a 2-1 lead, with one match already in extra holes and Eckroat all square in his match with Brandon Smith. Eckroat knocked in the winner for a 3-1-1 victory. The match in extra holes was declared a halve.
The match against Auburn, which knocked out defending champion Oklahoma in the morning, wasn’t that close. All three of the Cowboys’ wins in the semifinals didn’t get beyond the 16th hole.
“The depth of our team just showed today,” Bratton said. “We have had a different guy step up every day and play a big part in the success that we’ve had. The assignment tomorrow is to go beat the guy in front of you.”
Alabama won the national title in 2013 and 2014, and the latter felt like a road game because Prairie Dunes is about a three-hour drive from Stillwater.
“It’ll be a little bit more of a road game than it was in Kansas,” Seawell said.