As he sat in a manager’s chair on a sunny but windy afternoon at the University of Texas Golf Club in late March, Texas head coach John Fields made a sort of prediction for his talented and experienced group, one led by senior starters Cole Hammer, Pierceson Coody and Parker Coody.
It wasn’t quite Ben Crenshaw at Brookline, but Fields, nonetheless, had a good feeling about those Longhorns.
“I have a team that’s supercharged right now,” Fields told the Golf Channel’s only camera, which was filming a television feature, “and when we get there [to the NCAA Championship]they or they will be pay attention to business.
There have been close calls. Hammer and the Coodys fell in the national final against Stanford as a freshman.
There have been cancellations. The COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 playoffs with the Longhorns trending.
There were illnesses. Pierceson battled two different viruses last season, the latter forcing him out of the NCAA Championship, where a depleted Texas team missed the cut by 54 holes.
There were injuries. The most bizarre were the Coody twins who fractured their right arms last December after crashing into a wall during a post-workout relay race.
“So many mountains we had to climb,” Fields says.
But redemption makes such trips rewarding, and on Wednesday at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., the Longhorns didn’t just mind business, they took care of business.
In storybook fashion, Texas rose to the top of the mountain by beating Arizona State, 3-2, in the NCAA Finals to send its three seniors, dubbed the “Three Amigos,” onto the highest marks.
“They’ve been released,” Fields said. “They played some of the best and most outstanding golf I’ve seen from them, and I think it’s just because the pressure was really off. We got to where we wanted to go, and it gave them the opportunity to play golf and be who they were.
Who were champions. Boosted by a 4-under performance to cap stroke play, the best final round by seven strokes and what Fields called “the best round he’s ever coached,” the Longhorns not only nabbed the fourth seed for match play, but more importantly, they seized momentum.
Texas then eliminated the nation’s No. 2 and 3 teams, Big 12 rival Oklahoma State and the fearsome Vanderbilt, to clinch their ticket to the championship game, against a ranked Arizona State team. fourth at Golfstat and possessing the luxury of playing in front of home crowds.
In the last six championships, two teams had won national titles at home – Oregon in 2016 and Oklahoma State in 2018 – so despite the seemingly fate on the Longhorns’ side, the Sun Devils would likely have been the slight betting favorites to start the game. daytime. .
A real toss-up that was played as such for five hours. Hammer, undefeated after two matches, met a buzzsaw in fifth-year senior Mason Andersen, who led the opener 4 after seven holes before winning, 3 and 2. Parker Coody facilitated the work of senior James Leow during the second game, 6 and 5, and Pierceson Coody denied decorated rookie Preston Summerhays his third big scalp of the week, 2 and 1.
Fields, who has coached a host of superstars including Masters champions Jordan Spieth and Scottie Scheffler, knows how much his seniors have impacted his program.
“We’re really going to miss them because they’re three of the best players to ever play in Texas,” Fields said, “and that’s saying a lot.”
Hammer added: “My God, I just don’t know what I would do without [this team]. They’ve been such a big part of my life.”
But to win the school’s fourth NCAA title — and the first since 2012 — the Big 3 needed to become the Fab 5. Junior Travis Vick and Mason Nome, former AJGA stars in their own right, played pivotal roles throughout the season, and especially at Grayhawk. Nome put the deciding point on the board in the quarterfinals before taking Arizona State junior David Puig to extra holes. Puig had attracted some negative attention on Tuesday night when it was announced he would be attending the inaugural LIV Golf event in London, and the Sun Devils head coach told reporters on Wednesday morning that he had asked Puig to turn off his phone before the final game.
With Puig in position to secure the second point for Arizona State on the 10e green, on the other side of the lake on the 18e green was Vick and senior Cameron Sisk. Vick had won the first three holes, but Sisk, aided by a supportive crowd who Vick said had been heckling him and “cheering for bad shots” all day, came back to 1 with three holes to go. However, Sisk missed a birdie putt at the par-4 driveable 17e hole that would have tied the game, then put his approach to the par-4 closing hole in the left green side bunker. Once his sandsplatter failed to find the holeshot, Vick, at 30 feet, needed just two putts to seal the deal.
He got one within a foot, looked at Sisk, then sprinted off. With a finger pointing skyward, his signature bucket hat and sunglasses flew off as Vick quickly ran into his teammates just at the front of the green. The scene was briefly reminiscent of a mosh pit at a metal concert.
“This year to go through all the adversity and be here and watch everyone play like that,” Pierceson Coody said afterwards, “it means the world and it’s something I’ll never forget.”
Standing to Pierceson’s immediate left was Sonny Santrelli, a 14-year-old who has been rooting for the Longhorns from the sidelines all week. Santrelli is battling stage 4 lymphoma and he developed a relationship with Pierceson and the Longhorns earlier this spring.
Although not on the roster, Fields and his players argue Santrelli, in short order, was an integral part of this year’s squad.
“When we met Sonny and heard the story, the team never looked back,” Pierceson Coody said. “He’s like part of the team and he’s been our biggest inspiration. For him to be healthy and to come here and watch us meant the world, and we’re just happy to have made it for him.
Fields added: “I think the good Lord sent us an angel to be honest with you.”
Fields then turned to Santrelli, who had just burst into tears when asked on air what Team Texas had meant to him, and said, “Sonny, God bless you. If we could give you this trophy and it helps, we will.
Faith has been a driving force in Fields’ life. Ten years ago, during a contract year and under pressure, Fields stuck to a mantra repeated to him by his wife, Pearl: Let go and let God. Fields prayed several times this season as his Longhorns, led by Spieth and Dylan Frittelli, orchestrated a miraculous — and likely career-saving — season capped by a national championship win over Alabama at Riviera.
Fast forward a decade, and Fields, as he sat in that director’s chair, let go again.
“I’m praying,” Fields said later in that March encounter, “that we have the kind of end to the season that will allow these guys to keep rolling and be really proud of what they’ve done. “
This prayer was answered on Wednesday.
Texas eyes were on Fields’ proven team in their proverbial last dance, and when Gabriel blew the horn after six days in the Arizona desert, the Longhorns were finally national champions.
“It will live with these guys forever,” Fields said. “I’m especially proud of each of these guys. They’re all special. We’ll miss the Three Amigos, but we’ll see them in the fall for the Alabama game, they’ll honk their horns and we’ll celebrate.”