Illinois' Danielson clinches upset of defending champ Texas
MILTON, Ga. -- After making a close approach shot and sticking a six-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole to go one-up in his match Friday, Illinois' Charlie Danielson thought he had perhaps just hit the two most clutch shots of his life.
With only one hole remaining and a one-hole lead in his match against Toni Hakula of Texas, it appeared all Danielson would have to do is make a routine par and all the pressure would be on Hakula to birdie one of the hardest holes on the course to force a playoff. Simple, right?
Then Danielson stepped to the No. 18 tee box and promptly pumped his drive far right, across the cart path and deep into the woods. It appeared to be a pivotal moment when Hakula might not only seize back the momentum for his own match, but one in which the entire team match might have turned in favor of Texas.
“I was a little nervous on that tee shot,” Danielson said. “I knew the match was very close between us and Texas. And then I pushed my drive right into the trees.”
Illinois head coach Mike Small admitted he was surprised by where Danielson’s tee shot ended, but he later said he wasn’t surprised by what happened next. After Danielson calmed his rattled nerves, he pitched to the fairway and hit a wedge to 20 feet of the cup and sank the putt that essentially clinched his match and Illinois’ upset win against the defending national champions.
“That was awesome, just awesome,” Small said. “Here’s a guy who wasn’t in our lineup a month ago. When we went to play at Purdue, he got left at home because he was struggling. But he used that time off to resurrect himself and when he got the opportunity to play again, he hasn’t looked back.
“He’s a tough, gritty kid. When he birdied 17 [Friday] to go 1-up, that’s a hard pin to hit into there. But he hit it into six feet and made the putt. Then he goes to 18 and I expect him to hit it down the middle of the fairway, because that’s the way he’s been hitting it all week and he hit it right.”
Danielson said he made a promise to his coach after punching his errant tee shot out of the woods onto the fairway.
”I made sure I made a good punch-out and then I told Coach Small that I was going to make par,” Danielson said. “I got out there and totally stuck it. I knew I needed to make par to put the pressure on [Hakula].
“I hit a decent wedge shot. The distance control was good. It was just right and I had about 20, 25 feet left. I didn’t put too much pressure on myself. I just [visualized] it going in, then I stepped up and hit it and I was pretty excited when it went in.”
Danielson’s excitement was evident as he pumped his fist repeatedly. But Hakula still had to attempt a birdie putt from about eight feet that could have won the hole for him and Texas, and forced a playoff with Danielson for the precious team point that was at stake.
However, Hakula ran the putt past the hole and it essentially was game, set, match in favor of Danielson and the Illini. Their reward is a semifinal match-play meeting with top-seeded California on Saturday.
“It’s going to be fun. There’s no other way to describe it. If we look at it any other way, we’re looking at it the wrong way. Cal’s had the best season since I can remember, and I’ve been coaching 13 years. It’s the best by far that I’ve ever seen,” said Small, who also got a one-up win from Thomas Detry against Texas’ Julio Vegas and a 3-and-2 romp from surging Alex Burge against Cody Gribble.
“We’re doing the pairings [for Saturday] in [the Capital City Club clubhouse] and they’ve got five guys ranked in the top 25. How am I supposed to think that thing through? That’s pretty strong. What’s our top-rated guy, No. 46? But you know what? It’s golf. Let’s go play. We believe in ourselves and we’re going to enjoy this challenge.”
Texas head coach John Fields said all he could do was tip his cap to Danielson for finding his way out of what looked like big trouble that he had hoped would turn the match in his team’s favor.
“Well, he made a 20-foot putt to tie the hole after hitting out of the woods,” Fields said. “And that won the match for them. That really was the cherry on top of the banana split. That was just one more great putt that they made.
"You’ve got to give them credit. They knocked it in there when they had to and made the putts when they needed to, and they got us.”