SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The wind whipped dust in the air, flags and balls all around the golf course. Combined with fast, tricky greens, birdies were hard to come by.
Vanderbilt’s Gordon Sargent had one all day — and it was good enough to win a national championship.
Sargent curled in a short birdie putt on the first hole of a four-man playoff on Monday to become the ninth freshman to win the NCAA individual title.
“It definitely took a lot of patience out there — it was playing tough,” Sargent said. “There were people playing well, but I just stuck to my game, let it fall into place.”
Sargent didn’t have a birdie during a 4-over 74 at Grayhawk Golf Club, but made the playoff when Oklahoma State’s Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra three-putted for bogey on the par-4 17th. Sargent hit a huge drive on 520-yard, par-4 18th in the playoff and put his second shot six feet below the hole.
Texas senior Parker Coody chipped it close from short left of the green on his birdie try, and North Carolina senior Ryan Burnett missed a long birdie putt. After Lopez-Chacarra missed a par putt — he was well left of the green — the stage was set for Sargent.
The Haskins Award finalist from Birmingham, Alabama, slipped the putt in on the left edge, sending a roar through the crowd and his teammates rushing onto the green in celebration. He is the first freshman to win the individual title since Southern California’s Jamie Lovemark in 2007. He’s also the second Vandy player to win an individual national title, with track and field’s Ryan Tolbert.
The four players finished at even-par 280 on Grayhawk’s Raptor Course.
“It was just a tough day and just had to manage expectations well,” Sargent said.
Oklahoma senior Chris Gotterup missed two short birdie putts on the back nine and three-putted for bogey on No. 18 to miss the playoff by one.
A day after Oklahoma’s Patrick Welch shot 63, gusty winds and fast greens gave players fits most of the afternoon. Coody and Burnett moved up the leaderboard by shooting even on a day when seven of 84 players shot under par.
Sargent entered the final individual round with a one-shot lead over Gotterup after both shot 68 in Sunday’s third round.
Sargent labored in the tough conditions through the front nine, finishing with three bogeys and no birdies. He still managed to tie for the lead at 1 under, but a bogey on the par-3 16th dropped him a shot behind Lopez-Chacarra. He parred the last two holes, tying for the lead when Lopez-Chacarra had a three-putt bogey at the 17th.
Burnett, who started the final round four shots back at even par, had three birdies to make the turn at 1-under 34. He went to 1 over with bogeys on Nos. 11 and 15, but pulled into a tie for the lead with a birdie on No. 17.
Burnett’s tie for second was the best finish by a North Carolina golfer since John Inman’s 1984 national title.
“To start the year he wasn’t even in the lineup, but give him a lot of credit for his work ethic,” North Carolina head coach Andrew DiBitetto said. “We talked a lot about getting in the dirt and digging your way out of something, and Ryan’s worked really hard this year.”
Coody started his final round on No. 10, four shots back, and made the turn in 2-over 37. The Texan reeled off three straight birdies starting on No. 3 to tie Sargent for the lead at 1 under, but closed with a bogey on the par-4 ninth to fall one back.
Like Sargent, he ended up in the lead with Lopez-Chacarra’s bogey on 17.
Lopez-Chacarra overcame a double bogey and a triple on Nos. 5-6 to tie Sargent for the lead with a short birdie on the par-4 15th. Lopez-Chacarra moved into the lead by one as the others faltered, but hit his tee shot on the short par-4 17th under a bush.
He managed to chop it out, only to three-putt across the multi-tiered green, setting up the playoff.