Friday, June 5, 2009

Behind The Scenes Of A National Title

The dust is beginning to settle in Aggieland around the national title captured by the men's golf team one week ago.

Coach J.T. Higgins has admitted it's been a whirlwind since then, with well-wishers flooding his house when the team arrived back in town and interview requests popping up at almost every turn. Higgins and assistant coach Jonathan Dismuke are tireless recruiters, and they'll be busy on the recruiting trail this summer, as well as hosting golf camps at their spacious accommodations at Traditions Club in Bryan.

The Associated Press published a story recently about sophomore Conrad Shindler, who departed College Station almost immediately so he could caddy for touring pro Todd Hamilton in the PGA Tour's Memorial this weekend. Shindler had an interesting quote in the story, about how the reality of last week still hasn't quite set in:

"I still wake up every morning and turn on my computer,'' he said. "I've got the picture of me and my teammates with the trophy and I have to look at that every time to remind myself that we're the national champions.''

Indeed, as someone who has been wrapped up in almost every Aggie sport on campus in the last decade, I'm guilty of doing the occasional double-check to make sure it really happened. In fact, I remember doing an interview with Gary Blair during basketball season, and I asked him what was on his Bucket List of things he wanted to accomplish before his career was over. He reversed the question on me, asking me what I had on my list.

My immediate response was: "I want to see the Aggies win a national championship, and I don't care what sport it's in."

At the time, I thought he might be the first coach to accomplish that feat in the maroon and white. But, I couldn't be happier for Higgins, Dismuke and everyone associated with Aggie golf.

But looking back at their magical week at Inverness, it's amazing to think about how many things had to happen for A&M to claim the crown.

- Winning the stroke play tiebreaker with Georgia: This was huge, allowing the Aggies to avoid playing top-seeded Oklahoma State in the opening round of match play. OSU has been a longtime nemesis to A&M, even toppling the Aggies at Traditions Club during the Aggie Invitational in April. But, I should also point out how important it was for A&M to...

- Make it in the playoff with Georgia in the first place: How big was Conrad Shindler's hole in one in the opening round. Not only did he ace the hardest par 3 on the course, but the Aggies had to have that perfect shot to even make it in to the tiebreaker with Georgia. If Shindler's ball doesn't take the perfect bounce and roll in, A&M is at least one shot back (and possibly in danger of finishing out of the top eight altogether).

- Long shot Michigan upending No. 3 USC in the Elite Eight: Michigan wasn't ranked anywhere near the top 25 at the start of the week, but the Wolverines not only made it to match play, but they also wiped out a dangerous USC team. The Aggies would have drawn USC in the Final Four, but instead played Michigan.

- Saying the exact right things to Bronson Burgoon: Burgoon admitted his head was spinning after he lost four consecutive holes on the back 9. During that stretch, Burgoon asked the Aggie coaches and players to give him some space and not do too much talking. After his tee shot on 18 found the rough, though, Higgins sent in Dismuke to say a few words. With the pin tucked left and a ridge on the green to the right of the hole, Dismuke had to make sure Burgoon wasn't flirting with danger by firing at the pin. Whatever Dismuke said to Burgoon worked like a charm.

- "One of the greatest shots in college golf history": This one needs no explanation, but who knows would would have happen if Burgoon had hung his shot out to the right and had to put down the ridge, or missed the green altogether.

Winning a championship is such a monumental accomplishment. To be certain, the Aggies deserved to be crowned national champs. A&M played the best, most consistent golf of anyone in the field over the course of the week. The Aggies also took advantage of a few bits of good fortune that lady luck tossed their way, and, sometimes in sports, that can be hard to do.

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