Playing on the home course of the Oregon Ducks against the individual champion and without star Beau Hossler, the Texas Longhorns men's golf team battled on Wednesday in Eugene, but sophomore Taylor Funk eventually fell to Oregon's Sulman Raza on the third extra hole in the NCAA Finals.
Raza missed a birdie putt on the first extra hole to send it to a second and Texas sophomore Taylor Funk responded with a big-time drive past Raza down the center of the fairway. HIs second shot was just as good, leaving him with a better birdie attempt than Raza, whose own second shot landed well left of the hole. With an excellent put, Raza come close, but wasn't able to pull out the incredible finish, allowing Funk a chance to win it all.
Funk missed and Raza's second shot on the third extra hole was fantastic, leaving him with an easy put to win the national title. Unlike the first extra hole, Raza hit it, ending a dramatic an incredible contest that was surely crushing for the Longhorns, but also a remarkable display of competitiveness, especially given the long odds against Texas.
"It's stinging, and it will be tough for our guys, but you have to keep getting better," Texas head coach John Fields said on Golf Channel after the match.
"It will sting until next year when we get here. They are highly competitive guys and they want to win badly. I'll tell them what a great year they had. I'll tell them that they did not lose this golf tournament -- a guy made a birdie to win this golf tournament from us. We gutted it up today. We had some tough circumstances and almost got the job done. Almost, but not quite, and I'm proud of our guys and proud of the University of Texas and our golf program. We're just going to keep doing what we're doing and enjoy these when we get them."
Hossler, a junior who will likely turn pro in the coming days, made the decision shortly before match play started that he would not be able to participate after suffering a left shoulder injury on Tuesday. Saying that he was 30 percent and that his range of motion was good, but his shoulder was not stable enough to continue, Hossler expressed full confidence in his teammates to pull out the win.
It nearly happened.
Because of NCAA rules, Texas had to concede Hossler's match since injury substitutions are not allowed, putting the 'Horns in the difficult position of needing to win three of the four remaining matches, including sophomore Scottie Scheffler's match against fellow sophomore Anthony Wise, who won the individual championship just days ago.
In the lead position, Gavin Hall had a difficult day for the Longhorns, losing his match up with Edwin Yi at 4&3 after trailing throughout the entire match. With the pressure on the rest of the Texas players to win the rest of the matches, Scheffler responded.
Through 13 holes, Scheffler had a 3UP lead on Wise due to six birdies. When Wise hit a long birdie on that hole, Scheffler guided in his own and let out a big roar, letting Wise and a big Oregon fan contingent know that he wasn't going to back down despite his competition.
Scheffler closed out Wise on the 15th hole with a short putt after both players struggled on a difficult green and finished with seven birdies on 15 holes against Oregon's best player, an incredible performance that positioned the 'Horns to for a remarkable finish from sophomores Taylor Funk and Doug Ghim.
Funk started in the third position and had a close-fought match with hometown product Sulman Raza throughout, with neither gaining any significant margins at any point.
For sophomore Doug Ghim, his contest against Thomas Lim featured more swings -- Ghim got out to a quick 2UP lead, but then went down by the same margin before evening his match up through 12 holes, a big surge for Texas that significantly increased the odds of coming out with the title.
Ghim went ahead on the 13th hole despite missing a good effort at a long putt, while Funk stayed square with Raza after doing the same. On the next hole, Ghim was able to make another gain when Lim missed a mid-range putt and then conceded Ghim's three-foot finish, an odd decision given that it wasn't the easiest putt.
On 15, Funk's drive was long enough to find a bunker past the green, but an incredible up and down nearly stopped and then picked up some late momentum to come to a stop in a favorable position for Funk to make par. Raza had a good effort on his shorter attempt from the green, but his putt picked up too much speed and went beyond the hole. Then Funk capitalized by sinking his birdie putt to take a critical lead.
While Ghim used a good drive on 15 to set up his birdie shot, Funk found water on 16, sailing 30 yards wide, allowing Raza a key opening. However, Raza wasn't able to take advantage, as his shot sailed well left. Ghim calmly hit his birdie as Lim missed a more difficult shot to take a 3UP lead.
Minutes later, Funk's pedigree came through, as his shot off of his drop was phenomenal, leaving Raza with a difficult shot from the rough downhill to the hole. His effort was strong, but he still had to hit a long putt and missed, allowing Funk the chance to halve the hole and maintain his margin.
Ghim found water as Funk on 15, while Funk made a good second shot out of the rough after a mediocre tee shot on 16. However, Funk lost his lead on 17, then struggled on 18, missing the fairway and then finding the rough, while Raza had an excellent tee shot and shot onto the green.
In finishing off Lim 2&1, Ghim kept Texas alive.
Ultimately, the Longhorns fell just short, but with a lot of young talent returning even if Hossler does not, the 'Horns should be able to learn and grow from this to have a chance next year.