June 6, 2010

By Bucky Dent, Special to NCAA.com

OOLTEWAH, Tenn. -- Who says there's no crying in golf?

Moments after his sixth-seeded Jaguars dumped No. 2 Florida State 4-1 in an NCAA Division I men’s golf championship semifinal Saturday at The Honors Course, Augusta State coach Josh Gregory pushed tears out of his eyes as he lavished platitudes on his unheralded, talented side.

"The proudest moment of my career," he called it. "We have a chip on our shoulder and something to prove. Our program and our city deserve the opportunity."

The opportunity of which Gregory spoke occurs at 9:30 a.m. Sunday in the national championship match when Augusta State meets top-seeded Oklahoma State.

While casual fans may opt for a David vs. Goliath cliche to hype the match, it might be more advisable to bill this as a Butler vs. Duke scenario.

The Jaguars came into the tournament ranked as a Top 10 seed and qualified for the match-play quarterfinals comfortably at No. 6. Gregory said they were disappointed when they finished second in their NCAA regional.

But as a small school with a limited budget that offers no other Division I sports besides golf -- Augusta State is Division II in all other sports -- it is dwarfed in resources and tradition by the 10-time NCAA champion Cowboys.

But the Jaguars can play. Top seed Henrik Norlander is a strapping Swede with a flair for the dramatic, illustrated by his holing out an 84-yard lob wedge on 17 to close out Drew Kittleson 3 and 1, and clinch the team win.

No. 2 man Patrick Reed, whose 18th-hole birdie Friday against Georgia Tech allowed Augusta State to survive, never trailed Saturday in his 1-up win over Brooks Koepka.

But the gutsiest performance -- in more than one sense of the word -- came from No. 4 man Taylor Floyd. Enervated by an illness so bad that Gregory asked during a rain delay if he should consider withdrawing, Floyd refused and closed out his win over Wesley Graham with a birdie on the calculus-tough 18th hole.

"He's not the type of kid to complain about anything," Gregory said, "but for him to close out with a birdie on 18 was something as sick as he was."

So now the Jaguars mount that chip on their shoulder one more time and try to swing their way into history.

"We're real excited about being here," Norlander said. "We don't have the same budget, but we think we can beat anyone."

Quack Attacked: Oregon entered the tournament as the overall top seed but fell to Oklahoma State in the day's first semifinal.

But fourth-year coach Casey Martin isn't looking at the season as a disappointment, not after his team's numerous accomplishments.

"It has been a magical season for the Ducks. It has been awesome with five victories and finishing third in the tournament, winning the (Western) regional," he said.

If one is looking for an early favorite for the 2011 national title, it could be Oregon. It returns everyone from this year's squad, including top seed Eugene Wong.

"It's been a great, fun year, and hopefully, it's not the last of its kind," Martin said. "We just need to keep recruiting, bring guys in and scrap for it."

Wrong Word: By accident, Stanford's Steve Ziegler ended his day a hole early on Friday in a loss to Oklahoma State's Morgan Hoffmann.

Down one hole after dropping the 17th, Ziegler said, "Match," to Hoffmann. A rules official overheard him and said the match was over, declaring that Ziegler had conceded.

Had Ziegler said almost anything else, the match would have continued to the 18th hole.