Unless you're a parent or friend of a participating player, a
coach of a competing team or sports information director or
alumnus of a school for which victory hangs in the balance, it's
hard to get excited about watching college golf. What's more,
keeping score is more confusing than calculus. To determine how
a school is doing, you need to know the status of each player on
the five-person team so you can then determine the lowest four
scores that will eventually count toward the squad's daily
aggregate. Try doing this for 30 teams, and you'll probably be
as mixed-up -- and wrong -- as the volunteers who were operating
the scoreboards at last week's NCAA championships, in Columbus,
Ohio. About the only time the scoreboard was right was on
Saturday evening, when it showed that Oklahoma State and
Stanford had finished regulation play in a tie.
So, for the first time in the tournament's 98-year history, the
team competition went to sudden death. By then the individual
title also had been decided in a most unexpected fashion, with
Chip Spratlin, a fifth-year senior at Auburn, making the NCAAs
his first collegiate win -- indeed, his first victory in
anything bigger than a club championship.
But the drama that unfolded in the fourth and final round on
Saturday was focused on No. 1-ranked Oklahoma State and No. 2
Stanford, the defending champion, which was led by its freshman
sensation, Tiger Woods.
There was nothing surprising about the fact that Oklahoma State
and Stanford ended up in the playoff. They were well stocked
with All-Americas returning from last year's formidable squads,
and they had proved their mettle in the regular season by
winning eight and five tournaments, respectively, and by
flip-flopping between No. 1 and No. 2 in the polls. Except for
the Cowboys, though, everybody figured that Stanford would end
up on top because it had Woods in its lineup.
Woods, who became the youngest person to win the U. S. Amateur
championship a month before starting college, was the linchpin
for the Cardinal all season, even though Stanford had four of
five lettermen back from 1994. His 71.35 stroke average led the
Cardinal, and he won two tournaments and had six other top-10
finishes. But his presence also had some negative effects.
Stanford's performance was hampered to an extent by the hassles
that came with all the attention Woods got. "Being in the
spotlight as we are every day has put a lot of pressure on us,''
Casey Martin, a Cardinal senior, said last week. "It's been a
great experience, having Tiger, but it's also been tough and has
probably hurt our performance somewhat.''
Perhaps the person most affected by the Woods hoopla was Wally
Goodwin, the Stanford coach. Before Woods arrived in Palo Alto,
Goodwin was as hale and happy as any 67-year-old in the world.
Nine months later, at 68, he looks like a soldier back from a
battle. The wrinkles beneath his eyes are deeper and more
numerous. And the man who used to be as friendly as Big Bird now
shows something of a temper. Last week he snapped at a reporter
seeking an interview with Cardinal player Notah Begay.
"Coach, just two minutes with him, please?'' the reporter asked.
"Just two minutes,'' Goodwin repeated. "Everybody wants two
minutes. And two minutes times 10 is 20 minutes.
"At one point this year, I was averaging 51 requests a day,"
said Goodwin. "And those were only the calls on my personal
office line. It all got very old. But, thankfully, it couldn't
have been for a better person.''
In the end, though, not even Woods could bail out Stanford. He
arrived in Columbus worn out after a jam-packed year in which
he'd been mugged on campus, suffered a sprained right rotator
cuff and played in 12 college tournaments, not to mention the
Masters and the World Team Amateur in Versailles, France. Add to
this the pressures of freshman year for a regular student.
Overall, Woods handled the challenges well, maintaining a 3.0
academic average and recently pledging Sigma Chi, the same
fraternity that Begay is in.
But Woods was obviously frustrated during the first round of the
NCAAs, finishing with a one-over-par 73 on the Alister
MacKenzie-designed, 7,109-yard Scarlet Course at Ohio State. On
his 12th hole (the 3rd on the course, Woods having started on
the 10th tee) he duck-hooked a drive into some trees and, after
a bad punch shot that came up short, slammed his club into the
turf. Then, after dumping a 50-yard wedge into a greenside
bunker, he smashed the wedge against his bag. The club broke,
and Woods was given a warning by NCAA officials that lasted the
rest of the tournament and meant a two-stroke penalty if he were
He steadied himself, finishing with rounds of 72-70-71 and tying
for fifth in the individual standings, tops for a Stanford
player. He was never more than eight shots behind the leaders,
which included Spratlin, who made the 36-hole individual cut
even though Auburn was among the 15 teams that failed to advance
to the final two rounds.
Spratlin played a lot of golf growing up in Johnson City, Tenn.
But he wasn't good enough to attract any college scholarship
offers, so he tried to walk on his first year at Auburn. By the
end of his sophomore year he was on a partial scholarship. He
has the Tigers' most diligent practice regimen. But what
credentials did he have to go with the NCAA title, which has
been won by players like Nicklaus, Crenshaw and Strange? "Last
fall I won the championship at a club in Virginia,'' a dazed
Spratlin said late Saturday. "Oh, and I also won the club
championship at Telico Village at home in Knoxville a couple
Over the last few holes Saturday, Spratlin looked like a
country-club duffer. After 14 holes he was eight under par with
a four-shot lead over two players. "I was pretty cool and not
too nervous all week,'' said Spratlin, "but it's amazing how
quick your swing gets under the gun on the last few holes.'' He
double-bogeyed 15, bogeyed 17 and came to the last hole with
only a one-shot edge over Ted Purdy of Arizona and Chris Tidland
of Oklahoma State. At the 414-yard par-4 18th, a dogleg left,
Spratlin hit two good shots and then, after taking several deep
breaths, two-putted from 15 feet for his first collegiate victory.
Woods came close to a fairy-tale ending himself. Seniors Begay
and Martin had just missed putts of three and five feet that
would have clinched the championship when Woods arrived at the
18th green one under for the day and two under for the
tournament. He had a 25-foot putt for a birdie that would have
given Stanford the title. The few hundred spectators around the
green fell silent. Woods lined up the putt, stood over the ball
for about a minute and then hit what seemed another clutch
winning putt, like the one he nailed against Trip Kuehne at the
35th hole in the U.S. Amateur final last summer. But the ball
skimmed the cup's right edge and stayed out. Par. Tie for fifth
for Woods. Playoff for the Cardinal.
Unlike Stanford, which blew three winning birdie chances,
Oklahoma State got to the playoff in much better form. Senior
Alan Bratton, who shared 1994 NCAA Player of the Year honors
with Justin Leonard of Texas, birdied his last three holes,
while Kuehne birdied the 18th, to help the Cowboys overcome the
last half of what had been an eight-shot deficit to the Cardinal
on the front nine. Oklahoma State and Stanford ended regulation
tied at four-over-par 1,156, one stroke ahead of third-place
The playoff format called for each team to send its five players
out for one hole -- it would be the 18th -- of sudden death,
with the best four scores counting. Here, the Cowboys were at a
disadvantage because they had only four men who could play.
Sophomore Leif Westerberg had hurriedly left after finishing the
fourth round to fly to England for the British Amateur, which
was scheduled to begin on Monday in Hoylake. "We had made the
travel plans in early April,'' said Mike Holder, the Oklahoma
State coach, "so I had no regrets about being in that position.''
Nor should he have. His players were prepared to handle the
situation, what with a training schedule that includes
thrice-weekly 6 a.m. aerobics classes, frequent bad-weather
practice sessions and mandatory class attendance. That last
requirement yielded three Academic All-Americas this year, led
by Kuehne, who graduated with a 3.87 average in psychology and
was named the top senior male student at Oklahoma State, the
first athlete to be so honored. Kuehne has one more year of golf
eligibility, which he will use next season while working toward
In the playoff Stanford made four pars and a bogey, which wasn't
counted, while Oklahoma State had two pars and two birdies. Kris
Cox, a junior, nailed a 10-footer for the first birdie, and then
Bratton canned a 35-footer for the second. "This is all a
tribute to the way Coach handles us,'' said Kuehne. "Lots of
people say he runs a boot camp. But we love it, and we're great
friends. What he makes us do allowed us to conquer all the odds.''
It also kept a few streaks alive. Holder-coached Cowboy teams
had won six previous NCAA championships, including the last two,
in 1980 and '87, held at the Scarlet Course. And more important
to the players, every golfer who has played four years under
Holder since he started coaching at Oklahoma State in '73 has
left Stillwater with at least one NCAA crown. "We desperately
wanted to get Alan Bratton and Chris Tidland their titles,''
During the victory celebration someone asked Kuehne to pinpoint
what had been the difference for the Cowboys. "Last night an
anonymous person left notes on the doors to two of our rooms at
the hotel,'' he said. "One said, 'If you don't believe you can
do it, you never will. Believe in yourselves. Believe in
destiny.' The other just said, 'Believe in destiny,' which I
wrote on my golf balls today. Obviously, it was our destiny
today. We had a perfect ending to a perfect season."
COLOR PHOTO:PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID LIAM KYLE Woods's woes included a broken wedge and a missed birdie putt that would have won for Stanford. [Tiger Woods]
TWO COLOR PHOTOS:PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID LIAM KYLE While Auburn's Spratlin (above) was the surprise individual champ,the Cowboys' Bratton bent every effort to share his first team title. [Chip Spratlin; Alan Bratton]