A year later, Alabama avenges tough loss with title win
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MILTON, Ga. – With Sunday’s match-play final against Illinois only hours away, Alabama coach Jay Seawell called his men’s golf team together at the team hotel on Saturday night and delivered a simple but stirring message.
“Let’s go get it,” he told his team.
One year removed from the bitter disappointment of a 3-2 loss in the match-play finals against Texas, Alabama went out and did just that on Sunday. The Crimson Tide buried Illinois under an avalanche of birdies and timely shots, winning four of five matches and clinching the national championship that narrowly eluded them last year.
Alabama won 4-1 and didn’t even have to go the distance in three of its four winning matches, giving Seawell, in his 11th season, his and the school’s first NCAA DI Men’s Golf Championship.
“I’m really satisfied for these guys. You recruit them and I’ve known every one of these guys since they were 15 years old,” Seawell said. “I’m really satisfied for them. Last year was pretty hard … just gut-wrenching. And for the way they handled the entire year, especially in the spring when they just kept saying, ‘We want to do this, we want to do this,’ really just makes this so satisfying.”
Alabama’s Bobby Wyatt set the tone for the dominating day, crushing his match-play foe, Thomas Detry of Illinois, 6 and 5. Trey Mullinax needed a par on the 18th hole to edge Charlie Danielson in his match, but then senior caption Scott Strohmeyer and Cory Whitsett rolled to lopsided wins in their two matches.
The only point registered by Illinois came when Alabama’s Justin Thomas conceded to his Illinois opponent, Thomas Pieters, after both hit their approach shots into the 18th green. Pieters was only 1-up at the time, but the roars of the Alabama faithful elsewhere on the course signaled that Strohmeyer and Whitsett had almost simultaneously closed out their matches, making the Thomas-Pieters decision irrelevant.
Upon getting confirmation from a rules official that the Alabama victory was official, Thomas took off running in the opposite direction of where he had just hit his approach shot on No. 18. He didn’t stop running until reaching and embracing his teammates, who were gathering around the 15th green where Whitsett had just closed out Alex Burge of Illinois.
“It really hit me when I heard Trey [Mullinax] won his match,” Thomas said. “I was on the 18th tee. I was over my shot and I knew that put us 2-up, and I knew Corey [Whitsett] was way ahead in his match, and it gave me chills because for the first time I thought we really had the thing won. I was like, ‘Just hit the ball.’
“Not too many teams get to do this. Not many teams get to be here two years in a row. I’m just honored to even be part of this team, let alone win a national championship. I came here for a reason, and to get it done is just unbelievable.”
Strohmeyer said that he doesn’t think Alabama could have won this year without first experiencing the devastating loss to Texas a year ago.
“It’s confidence,” Strohmeyer said. “We knew if we could get here [Sunday], we would have an edge because of last year. Experience is huge in golf. You learn a lot about yourself in pressure situations. There were a lot of mistakes that I made last year that I wish I could have fixed.”
To that end, Strohmeyer said he and his roommate, Thomas, watched video of last year’s championship-match loss repeatedly before this year’s tournament.
“Justin and I would go back and watch last year’s coverage. We probably did it four or five times,” Strohmeyer said. “I told him on the range before we left, ‘We’ve got a second chance now to get this right.’ That’s awesome, because not everybody gets a second chance at something like this.”
That’s precisely what Seawell was thinking when he implored his players to go out and get it on Saturday night.
“We had a fire in our eye. [Saturday] night we had a nice chat,” Seawell said. ”We had a team meeting and you say things, and I said, ‘Let’s go get it!’ I would never have said that, and I would never do that in any team meeting normally. But it was kind of where we were. We wanted this. We figured this was our chance, our opportunity.”