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Oklahoma State Faces Alabama for the 2018 National Title



STILLWATER, Okla. — Oklahoma State did not celebrate on Monday after winning the stroke play portion of the NCAA Championship. They did not celebrate on Tuesday after winning the quarterfinals and semifinals against Texas A&M and Auburn respectively. Reaching the finals as the No. 1 team on their home course was always a checkpoint and never a goal. They’ve been saving that celebration all week for Wednesday night.

“I think we’ll probably have a couple conversations at dinner,” said junior Zach Bauchour. “But the focus for us will just be tomorrow and how we can play well, how the course is going to play well, game plan a little bit. Tomorrow will be the big celebration. That’s what we’re focused on.”

“Yeah, we’ll find time to celebrate after tomorrow instead of after today,” added sophomore All-American Viktor Hovland. “We’ll save it for then.”

Oklahoma State will play for its third title of the match play era on Wednesday afternoon. It has losses to Augusta (2010) and Alabama (2014) but will have its chance at redemption over the Tide starting at 2:25 p.m. at Karsten.

“Obviously their guys are used to being there,” said OSU head coach Alan Bratton. “Our guys are as well. It’ll be a good test, two good teams, hopefully in front of a massive crowd, and I’d like them to be making lots of noise.

“Several of you in here cover a lot of college golf. This is very unusual, and what a dream scenario to get to perform in front of a crowd, and we’re excited for the opportunity tomorrow. That’s why you play. And I expect us to come out on top.”

I expect us to come out on top.

As somebody in our PFB Slack chat pointed out last night, it’s pretty awesome for the expectation to be national championships. I don’t care what the sport is, that’s just not something we’re used to in, say, football or basketball the way other programs are. Golf, though? Playing for and winning titles is the baseline.

And yet, Bauchou noted that OSU hasn’t felt the heat yet (which I’m not positive is true given some of the feelings I was feeling when A&M had them on the ropes on Tuesday morning!)

“I don’t think there’s any pressure when you’re as good as we are throughout the lineup,” added Bauchou. “We’ve played so well all year, starting in Hawaii. We just came back and had it rolling all year. I would say four guys did that this week except for me in the stroke play, and I kind of found it today a little bit. So I think tomorrow we’ll come out and be ready to roll.

“Honestly, this course, I think there’s only one way to play it. Wherever they put the tees, if you want to play well here, you have to be good … and that’s why we’ve played well.”

I’m not sure about no pressure. Freshman Austin Eckroat admitted he was shaking over putts on the final two holes in the quarterfinals against A&M on Tuesday morning. In fact, I think it’s easy to see a scenario in which Alabama is the team playing pressure-free golf as the noose tightens around a Pokes team that has been the expected champ for the last five months.

However, as my guy Sean Martin pointed out, OSU has reason to be confident.

This year’s Alabama squad has just two players in the top 100 of Golfweek’s individual rankings, senior Lee Hodges (No. 21) and junior Davis Riley (26). Oklahoma State has three of the country’s top 20 players, and all five are ranked in the top 100. The team is led by two first-team All-Americans, Viktor Hovland and freshman sensation Matthew Wolff. Alabama has none.

None of the Crimson Tide’s five players finished in the top 20 in stroke play, nor did any Crimson Tide players break par for 72 holes. The five players combined for just four sub-par rounds and were a combined 40 over par in stroke play. []

The property at Karsten will be teeming with OSU fans as orange and black spill into the fairways and try to push these five Pokes on to their first big trophy since 2006.

“Your bad shots get claps. Your good shots get booed. It’s absolutely awesome,” former Augusta State head coach Josh Gregory said about playing the Pokes at Karsten. “It’s the way sports really are. You have 5,000 people dressed in orange. You have to enjoy it and play fearless. All the pressure in the world is on them. None of it is on you.”

However, if that crowd gets going the other way, against Alabama, it could spell trouble for the Tide. They’ll roll a pair of freshman out against the Cowboys into an environment in which they will feel things they have never felt before.

Of course the Cowboys will also counter with two freshmen so ho knows what’s going to happen on Wednesday afternoon. That’s the greatest thing about sports — 20-year-olds representing masses of people playing in the pressure cooker with an historic season on the line. Literally anything can happen. Again, that stinks for OSU, but boy is it great for college golf.

So there it is. Five college kids on each side for the championship. Red vs. Orange (though maybe not the red vs. orange we were hoping for). Rickie vs. JT. Vengeance for 2014. The #narratives are boundless, and one will emerge late on Wednesday as summer sets on Stillwater, USA. Will Alabama spoil what has felt inevitable, or will Oklahoma State make what has felt inevitable still seem unique and special? Regardless of how it plays out, the 10 golfers who tee it up on Wednesday afternoon have been thinking about this day for a long, long time.

“I was wore Swinging Pete whenever I was playing in my junior tournaments at eight years old,” said Eckroat. Yeah, it’s always been a huge goal of mine to play golf for Oklahoma State and contribute to winning a national championship.”

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Follow Kyle Porter on Twitter @KylePorterCBS

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