Taylor Funk and the rest of his Longhorn teammates watched helplessly from the side of the 10th green at Eugene Country Club.
It was the third playoff hole in the decisive match for the NCAA national championship between Funk and Oregon’s Sulman Raza. A six-foot putt was what Raza needed to down Funk and Texas’ title hopes.
Raza sunk the birdie putt, and then was mobbed by a sea of green and yellow. The Longhorns’ season was over.
“Obviously there’s a hometown crowd for Oregon, so I wanted to keep it as quiet as possible,” Funk told the Golf Channel. “The nerves were there, and you got to love having the nerves. I mean I loved every minute of it. That’s what you live for. We didn’t come out on top this time, but there’s going to be many more opportunities and I’m looking forward to those.”
Before the national championship match even began on Wednesday, the Longhorns knew they had their hands full.
Texas had to beat Oregon on the Ducks’ home course of Eugene Country Club surrounded by a heavily pro-Oregon crowd, all without its best player in junior Beau Hossler. Less than an hour before the championship match was set to begin, Hossler was ruled out after sustaining a left shoulder injury in Tuesday’s semifinal versus University of Southern California. The move forced Hossler to concede his match to Oregon’s Zach Foushee, leaving Texas with a 1-0 deficit before a single shot was hit.
“I'm proud of these guys, and unfortunately Beau had a tough, tough injury that made it more difficult for us to win this golf tournament,” head coach John Fields said. “But nobody in here fretted about it. Nobody said, yeah, I wish we could substitute somebody in. They said, let's go play those guys and let's go win, and we almost did it.”
Despite the loss of Hossler, the Longhorns were on the brink of winning it all.
Junior Gavin Hall lost the opening match to Edwin Yi, 4 & 3, leaving Oregon just one point away from winning it all with three matches left. But Texas did not go away.
Sophomore Scottie Scheffler gave the Longhorns their first point of the day, defeating NCAA individual champion Aaron Wise. Sophomore Doug Ghim later closed out Thomas Lim to tie things up for Texas at two points. It all came down to Funk’s match with Raza.
“I realized Scottie won and Doug was basically closing out,” Funk said. “I knew at that point it was going to come down to our match for the national championship. I played some good golf, and [Raza] played a little better golf.”
Funk led his match one-up with two holes to play, but the redshirt sophomore lost the 17th hole after failing to get up-and-down from the front of the green.
On the 18th hole, Funk sunk a short par putt to keep the Longhorns alive in the match and forced a sudden death playoff. Raza missed a short birdie putt that would’ve given the Ducks the title on the first playoff hole.
The second playoff saw the complete opposite. Funk stuck his approach shot to 10 feet and had a birdie putt to win it all for Texas. But the putt just slipped by, sending the match to a third playoff hole.
“I thought we had that putt read absolutely right,” Fields, who walked with Funk in the closing holes, told the Golf Channel. “If [Oregon head coach] Casey Martin is reading that putt he probably gets it right. We probably missed that by just an edge, and it’s the difference.”
Oregon was denied a third time as Raza defeated Funk, giving the Ducks their first men’s golf national title in school history.
“I'm stinging, we're all stinging, and I just know that we've got a good chance to win next year,” Hall said.
The Longhorns finish their season having won seven times, including capturing a fourth-straight Big 12 title. Texas will likely return every member of its squad for next year, but Hossler could turn professional soon. He is expected to have an MRI on his left shoulder on Thursday.
Still, even without Hossler, Fields says the runner-up finish will be what lingers with this team for the next year.
“We have an outstanding team that gave their heart and soul this week,” Fields said. “We had a lot of great things happen. I know everybody here wanted to play just a little bit better and get this done, but we'll be back next year giving it our all.”