Last year they came agonizingly close; this year, national champions. After losing 3-2 to Texas in the 2012 national championship, Alabama didn't want a repeat of their oh-so-close performance. And they didn't, as they beat Illinois four matches to one in the final to claim their first men's national championship in a sport other than football.
They did so on Sunday in the finals of the 2013 NCAA Golf Championship on the par-70, 7,319-yard Crabapple Course at the Capital City Club.
The Crimson Tide's victory was redemption after a heartbreaking loss to Texas in the NCAA Finals a year ago. The clinching holes on Sunday were almost simultaneous on the 15th and 16th holes. Junior Cory Whitsett halved the par-3 15th hole for a 4 and 3 victory and only seconds later senior Scott Strohmeyer won the difficult par-4 16th hole with par for a 3 and 2 win.
The two wins clinched Alabama's first National Championships as players, coaches, family and fans rushed from all corners of the back nine to celebrate.
"I think (what happened last year) makes it more special," Alabama head coach Jay Seawell said when asked about last year's loss. "It makes you appreciate it a great deal more. It is so hard to even get here. This team has been on a mission, a mission, a mission. That is the leadership of Scott Strohmeyer and all of the guys on this team. It is their championships and we won today because of them."
Whitsett, playing in the last group, jumped out to an early lead with the three middle parings locked in a battle for the three points needed to win the match. He won the second, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth holes. After dropping holes at 10 and 11, Whitsett moved back to 4 up with a par on the 14th. He then clinched the match over Alex Burge on the 15th.
Strohmeyer, an Auburn native, battled Illinois' Brian Campbell in another hotly contested match. He fell behind on the 11th hole but quickly got back to all square with a birdie on the par-5 12th. After halving the 13th with a long par putt, Strohmeyer won three straight holes to close out the match, 3 and 2.
"I made a big putt on 12 for birdie to go all square, and coach gave me the read on the putt," Strohmeyer said. "I would've missed it if I hadn't asked him for a read. Seeing the putt go in gave me a lot of confidence. On the next hole, I made a great par putt to halve the hole, and that might have rattled him, but it gave me a lot of confidence and allowed me to settle down. [Campbell] played great. He didn't give me anything; I had to beat him."
Junior Trey Mullinax was the in the second paring and locked in a battle with Charlie Danielson. The back-and-forth match went to the 18th hole all square after six lead changes. Both players found their approach shots to the right of flag, leaving Mullinax a 60-foot putt while Danielson was chipping from off the green. Mullinax lagged to within five feet and sank his par putt for the 1-up win and Alabama's second point.
Junior Bobby Wyatt, paired in the first group, staked the Crimson Tide to an early lead with an amazing front nine. The junior from Mobile, Ala., won the first seven holes and had a 6-up lead at the turn with five birdies. He closed the match out with an improbable chip-in for birdie on the 13th for a 6 and 5 win over Illinois' Thomas Detry.
Justin Thomas was one down through 17 holes when the match was decided. He found himself 1 down most of the day but fought back to all square on the 15th only to slip one back again on the 16th after making bogey.
Seawell was asked if there was any extra motivation as a lot of talk was about the stellar year the University of California had had coming in to the national championship.
"I think it helped a little bit because it kept a lot of questions from us. We were under the radar. We were a very good team and we knew that. Cal, what they did was exceptional. You take your hats off to them. No one will ever do that again, it's just too hard in this day and age. It was kind of good for us. We have won six of seven tournaments, I guess now seven of eight in the spring, and we didn't get talked about much. Even going in to today, all the talk was how Cal didn't make it. When you're playing in something this big, anything you can do to get a little more relaxed it helps. It relaxed us. Everybody wanted to talk about that and not about us, which was good."
Seawell was asked, what does it mean for the program?
"I saw a former player, who played in the late 70s right after we won and he couldn't speak because he was crying. So that gives me the perspective of what it meant to the people who have played on this team. There have been hundreds of guys who have played for Alabama Golf, and this trophy is for all of them. Everybody has a part in it. When you do what these guys have done, everybody's down here in tears. How about that turnout today? It's not like this is Tuscaloosa, Alabama. To have as many fans as we've had here today, I think just energized our team. It really did."
And for him personally?
"Me personally? I don't know, I've always just wanted to be a coach. For me it means a lot just to see the smiles on the players' faces. That's what means the most to me. To see Cory Whitsett, after the pain of last year, this will probably always be in my heart, and to see the happiness today—that's just what means the most. I don't make a shot; I'm just a van driver. It is just truly great to see the happiness of our players."
The National Championship is the first in a men's sport outside of football in Alabama history. It is the Crimson Tide's 24th National Championship across all sports and its eighth title since 2009 (three in football, two in women's gymnastics, one in women's golf, one in softball, and one men's golf).
Match Play Championship Results
Sunday, June 2 – Championship Match
Alabama defeated Illinois, 4-1
Bobby Wyatt (Alabama) d. Thomas Detry (Illinois), 6 and 5
Trey Mullinax (Alabama) d. Charlie Danielson (Illinois), 1-up
Thomas Pieters (Illinois) d. Justin Thomas (Alabama), 1-up
Scott Strohmeyer (Alabama) d. Brian Campbell (Illinois), 3 and 2
Cory Whitsett (Alabama) d. Alex Burge (Illinois), 4 and 3
Saturday, June 1 – Semifinal
Alabama defeated Georgia Tech, 3-0-2
Anders Albertson (GT) vs. Bobby Wyatt (Alabama), all square
Trey Mullinax (Alabama) d. Shun Yat Hak (GT), 4 and 3
Bo Andrews (GT) vs. Scott Strohmeyer (Alabama), all square
Justin Thomas (Alabama) d. Seth Reeves (GT), 3 and 1
Cory Whitsett (Alabama) d. Ollie Schniederjans (GT), 3 and 2
Friday, May 31 - Quarterfinal
Alabama defeated New Mexico, 4-1
Bobby Wyatt (Alabama) d. Victor Perez (UNM), 2 and 1
Gavin Green (UNM) d. Trey Mullinax (Alabama), 5 and 4
Scott Strohmeyer (Alabama) d. Benjamin Bauch (UNM), 4 and 3
Cory Whitsett (Alabama) d. John Catlin (UNM), 5 and 4
Justin Thomas (Alabama) d. James Erkenbeck (UNM), 4 and 3
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