Prepare yourself to suspend belief entirely. Because nothing like what you will read below has happened or ever will happen.
Imagine, if you will, an entirely different kind of fantasy league. A league comprised of the all-time greatest players from the nation’s top collegiate golf programs. In this alternate golf nerd universe, eligibility doesn’t matter, age is irrelevant and every player is in prime form. The best five players from the top sixteen teams are selected and put into brackets for the greatest collegiate golf showdown that has ever been or ever will be- The Mythical NCAA Championship.
The (completely fake) Selection Committee
Scott Anderson: NCAA savant, Gustavus Adolphus College, Somerset C.C., 3.8 index.
John Ashworth: Linksoul founder, University of Arizona, Goat Hill Park G.C. 3.2 index.
Jay Bilas: ESPN analyst, lawyer, Duke University, Charlotte C.C. 6.0 index.
Condoleezza Rice: Former Secretary of State, Denver University, Augusta National. 12.1 index.
Steve Rushin: Sports Illustrated, Hyland Greens Par-3 Snack Bar 1983-85. No index.
Our dedicated committee of cultural, civic and athletic leaders worked diligently to settle on a final sixteen teams. Selections were made taking the following attributes into account:
A school’s overall NCAA championship record
The impact of the programs and the players on the game of golf
Player performance after college
As with any selection process, there were teams left out (Arizona, Oklahoma, SMU) that may have deserved a spot. But rest assured, the Committee worked to be as equitable as possible in this critical process.
The Mythical National Championship is a 16-team match play tournament. Each team will consist of five players who will play head-to-head matches worth one point each.
Five players (not necessarily the best players) from their respective school have been chosen. The oldest player in our field is Georgia Tech’s Bobby Jones and the youngest is Oklahoma State Cowboy Matthew Wolff. Mickey Wright is the only woman in the field, and there are six amateurs (Jones, Wolff, Vinny Giles, Jim Nantz, Sandy Tatum and Stewart Hagestad).
Round of Sixteen Matches: Cypress Point Club
1942 NCAA champion Sandy Tatum dispatches Clemson’s Lucas Glover 7&6 to get the Cardinals’ first point of the tournament. Mickey Wright closes out DJ Trahan after hitting a driver on 16 to four feet and converting the birdie. Woods and Watson both managed easy wins over Stanley and Byrd respectively. Bob Rosburg beats Doc Redmon in the battle of U.S. Amateur champions. Looks like Clemson maybe didn’t belong here. Good night,Tigers. Stanford 5-0.
From the onset, all eyes have been on Bobby Jones. Yet for all of Jones’ God-given ability, he and his hickory-shafted clubs prove to be no match for the plucky Corey Pavin and his Cleveland VAS irons. Pavin scorches Cypress Point with 6 birdies on the front and closes out Jones early. Duffy Waldorf shocks Matt Kuchar, and the Bruins appear to be cruising to victory before the tournament’s first controversy: With their match even on 18, David Duval calls Scott McCarron for anchoring. Chaos ensues. Honorary non-playing Bruin captain Alan Shipnuck loses control and gets into a chest-to-chest shouting match with Duval. The teams have to be separated. The flustered Bruins get swept in the remaining matches and fall to The Ramblin’ Wreck 3-2.
Ever the gentleman, Bobby Jones was deeply troubled by the events and later wrote, “When I first saw the elongated implement being used by the player, I mistook him for a laborer of some sort. Perhaps a gardener.” Jones went on, subtly putting Shipnuck in check. “I was most troubled, however, by the conduct of the gentleman who calls himself a journalist. If that is what captaincy has been reduced to in this day and age then it is no longer a post to be honored.”
Hours before the match opens, the entire Georgia team is stunned to learn their clubs have gone missing. Security cameras show no suspicious overnight activity, nor any sign of Patrick Reed. Predictably, Bubba Watson is beside himself with emotion and moved to tears. Vinny Giles huddles the team around their rental sets for an impassioned pep talk, but it’s not enough as the Cowboys win every match and coast into the Round of Eight. 5-0 Oklahoma State.
“Ohio State really needs some good news these days,” said Jack Nicklaus, who lost to Jordan Spieth in 21 holes. “That’s the only reason we brought this Tee-K Kelly kid. They told me he was a good Twitter follow, whatever that means, so we brought him. But then he goes out and loses to Brandel Chamblee 10&8.” Nicklaus was on a roll. “I don’t know what Twitter is, but if I were Tee-K, I’d put it down and start working on my putting. This loss is the biggest moral disgrace for our proud institution in over 2 months.” Texas looking tough; 5-0, The Victors.
Not surprisingly, Wake Forest establishes themselves as the preeminent shit-talkers of the Mythical National Championship. Curtis Strange’s gums have been flapping since the Opening Banquet, and he’s giving Jimmy Hart a run for the unofficial title Mouth of The South. Teammate Lanny Watkins is not far behind. The Demon Deacons rout the Running Rebels like its a 2nd grade father-son game. Not one match sees the 15th tee. Demon Deacons 5-0.
A grind for both teams that came down to the final pairing of Ryder Cup bulldogs and career over-achievers Chris DiMarco and Paul Azinger. Azinger holes out from a bunker on 18 to give the Seminoles the win before talking some trash of his own; “They couldn’t have beat us with Tebow today.” God bless the Seminoles who advance 3-2. Class acts, all the way.
Despite having a slew of professional victories, USC has zero NCAA championships. It’s not a big shock that the Sun Devils made quick work of them. Stewart Hagestad, who has played more match play golf than anyone in the universe over the last few years, wins the sole point for the Trojans. Arizona State, meanwhile, looks poised to make a deep run. Rahm, Casey, Reavie and Mickelson all win, and the Sun Devils go forward with a 4-1 walloping of the Trojans.
“I knew we were toast last night when Nantz asked me ‘Where’s Blaine McCallister?’” recalled Fred Couples. “I was like, ‘Jim.....There’s no Blaine. It’s just us. You’re the 5th player, Jim,’ and he looked at me like he saw a ghost.” Nantz, who also doubled as the emcee at the opening banquet, had never anticipated being selected. “You have to understand,” said Nantz, “Houston’s won 16 NCAA championships. There’s no way I’m in the top 100 players to go through that school. I seldom break 80.”
Couples outlasted Johnny Miller, and Bruce Lietzke throttled Bobby Clampett giving Houston two points early. But then Dean Wilson stunned Steve Elkington in extra holes, and Mike Weir cooly toppled Fuzzy Zoeller in the battle of unlikely Master Champions. That meant it all came down to the final match, Jim Nantz and Zac Blair. “Pardon my french,” offered Nantz, “but I thought that little son-of-a-you-know-what would never stop talking about template holes. Donald Ross this, Seth Raynor that, on and on. I just couldn’t take it anymore.” With Nantz shaken, Blair cruised to a 5&4 win giving BYU a 3-2 upset victory over the most decorated program in NCAA history.
Round of Eight Matches: Pasatiempo Golf Club
Stanford (1) vs. Georgia Tech (8)
Of the thousands of spectators on hand, all but a handful are following The Match of All Matches, Tiger Woods versus Bobby Jones. Neither of these great champions is bothered by the crowds, but Jones would later write in his journal, “I remain puzzled by the odd plastic devices the patrons feverishly peck at with their fingers and point in our direction as we address the ball. At times it seems as if the device is the master and the patrons, the slave.” Woods, of course, has grown up in the era of the selfie and is impervious to any distraction. He also knows Pasatiempo well and dismantles the course- and his opponent- who continues to place his faith in his trusty hickories. Tiger wins easy, but so does Duval, who awkwardly fist-pumps his way to birdie after birdie at a pace Wight simply can’t keep up with. Meanwhile, Larry Mize chips in twice (of course) to beat Watson while Tatum closes out Cink 2&1. Kuchar’s victory over Rosburg seals it. Ramble on, baby. Settle down easy. The Ramblin’ Wreck rolls on. 3-2.
Texas (4) vs. Oklahoma State (5)
Texas and Oklahoma State never looked like it was going to be close. Let’s be real; if you’re Oklahoma State and your all-time five best players have one major win among them, you’re not escaping the Round of Eight. Not with the Texas juggernaut coming at you.The Longhorns are undefeated and they didn’t even bring Omar Uresti. Texas rolls to another 5-0 victory.
Arizona State (7) vs. BYU (15)
BYU and Arizona State—two proud institutions on opposite ends of the religious spectrum. If the Cougars ever needed a miracle from above, today is that day. In the lead pairing, Paul Casey made Zac Blair look like Blaire from The Facts of Life winning 6&5. Phil Mickelson roughed up Johnny Miller, and Chez Reavie handled Mike Weir, rendering the final two matches meaningless. Unphased by rumors of Mickelson potentially facing suspension for gambling on the matches, Arizona State wins 4-1 to move onto thethe Final Four with a relative ease.
Wake Forest (3) vs. Florida State (11)
Arnold Palmer and Brooks Koepka led off the Wake Forest and Florida State match. Koepka, fresh off a morning workout, drilled his opening drive center cut 340 yards. Not to be outdone, Palmer, being Palmer, drove the green (445 yards.) As the King walked off the first tee, he looked at Koepka, lit a Pall Mall, smiled and said “Not the first time I’ve done that, son.” Palmer would go on to win 7&6. Jay Haas, Darren Clarke and Lanny Watkins all proved to be too much for the Seminoles to handle. Wake Forest easily stode into the Final Four. Sadly, the long-anticipated match between Paul Azinger and Curtis Strange was called due to darkness (and excessive chatter). Deacons move into the Final Four, 4-0.
***Match called for cocktail hour
Final Four Matches: The Valley Club of Montecito
[7:31 am. Captain Palmer enters Demon Deacon breakfast meeting]
“Good morning, boys… Um....Where’s Lanny?….Where the hell is Lanny?!?”
Wake Forest (3) vs. Arizona State (7)
With Lanny Watkins M.I.A., Wake Forest entered the semi-final match severely handicapped. Unsure of whether he would ever see Watkins again, Palmer had no choice but to front-load his lineup for the morning matches. Palmer would go out first and take care of Phil Mickelson while Strange outbattled Jon Rahm in the second match. When Darren Clarke easily beat Billy Mayfair, the Demon Deacons advanced to the finals 3-2 over Arizona State. Wake Forest had dodged a bullet. Watkins, who had fallen victim to the lure of State Street/UC-Santa Barbara’s party scene, would eventually surface after lunch (all charges dropped.)
Texas (4) vs Georgia Tech (8)
After two days of watching Corey Pavin and Tiger Woods hit the ball 50 and 150 yards past him, respectively, Bobby Jones decided it was time for new gear. He traded in the hickories for new sticks (Mizuno irons and Callaway woods, obviously) and golf balls with a little more “pep” (TP5x). His new equipment worked wonders as Jones easily defeated Spieth 6&5. Jones’ journal, once again, provides insight into the mind of the great champion:
“Today’s match was against a promising young player named after the great River Jordan, who swings with a peculiarly crooked left arm. The pace at which he plays is reminiscent of ships crossing the great Atlantic. His caddy, a feral-looking unshaven man, talks entirely too much to be considered for any assignment or role at Augusta National.”
David Duval was once again animated and thoroughly dominant, settling some ongoing Golf Channel tension by taking Chamblee to the cleaners, 9&8. “Maybe Brandel took some notes for a revision of Anatomy of a Champion.” But Duval’s win would be Georgia Tech’s last. Texas, again, was too much for their competition. Longhorns into the final 3-2.
The Championship Match
Championship Match: The Los Angeles Country Club- North Course
The Longhorns are 13-2 and feel right at home given the strong Austin expat scene in Los Angeles. They spend the night before the match listening to Chamblee read his dissertation on “The Meaning of Freedom in Free Market Societies” at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, which all nine people in attendance found fascinating. As the team prepared to load the minivan for the ride back to the Beverly Hilton, Captain Crenshaw pulled them aside. He looked up into the night sky and said, “Men, I’m a big believer in fate. I’ve got a good feelin’ ‘bout this. That’s all I’m gonna tell ya.” Not another word was uttered the whole way back to the hotel.
Meanwhile, the Demon Deacons weren’t concerned with fate. They were on fire. Lanny is back, Arnie feels right at home in Hollywood, Haas and Clarke are the perfect wingmen and Curtis hasn’t stopped talking shit for 3 days. There is no better place for this team to be than on the debaucherous fringes of Los Angeles. What could go wrong?
Match day comes (thankfully at noon for the Demon Deacons) and pairings are released:
12:00- Jay Haas vs Brandel Chamblee
12:15- Darren Clarke vs Justin Leonard
12:30- Curtis Strange vs Jordan Spieth
12:45- Lanny Watkins vs Tom Kite
1:00- Arnold Palmer vs Ben Crenshaw
As Geoff Shackelford so perfectly illustrates in McKellar Magazine, The North Course at Los Angeles Country Club is truly Masterpiece Theater for match play. There is no place in this imagined universe, or our real one, that any of these players would rather be for this match. And so it would be here that the two proud programs would fight for the crown. Haas opened the fray with back-to-back birdies and went on to trounce Chamblee 4&3. Leonard quickly got a point back for the Longhorns, and Spieth rebounded, taking his match from Strange. With Texas leading 2-1, the Watkins vs Kite match was a must-win for Wake Forest. Watkins was sweating vodka but managed to match Kite’s string on birdies on 9, 10 and 11 before winning the 13th with a birdie of his own in the shadows of the Playboy mansion (where he slept the night before) to go 3-up. A near ace on the 15th from 88 yards gave Watkins a 4&3 win. The Deacons were still alive. The Mythical National Championship would come down to two giants of the game: Arnold Palmer and Ben Crenshaw.
The final match went back and forth with no player ever gaining more than a 1-up lead. After 18 holes—and two packs of cigarettes for Palmer—the match would require extra holes. There was only one place for the Mythical National Championship to be decided: “Little 17.”
A George C. Thomas “deep track,” Little 17 is tucked in the left side of the 2nd fairway of the North course, essentially making the North a 19-hole course. If you’ve never been intimidated by a 100-yard shot, you’ve never seen Little 17.
Palmer and Crenshaw played from a knoll on the 2nd fairway from about 100 yards to the contoured and well-protected green. Crenshaw played first and dead-handed a wedge to 4 feet just below the hole. With the Hollywood hills as a backdrop, Palmer would play next. A little too much effort tugged his wedge left into a greenside bunker. With a less-than-ideal lie, Palmer did well to get the ball onto the green, but he couldn’t get close. The King faced 30 feet of treacherous downhill slope for par. He made a good bid, but narrowly missed and had 10 feet coming back up the slope, which he lipped out. The writing was on the wall, and being the champion and King that he was, Palmer walked to Crenshaw’s mark, picked it up and flipped it to Gentle Ben. A handshake was all that was left. Palmer would concede the match and the Mythical National Championship to the deserving Longhorns. The greatest collegiate golf tournament of all time had come to a close.
Crenshaw walked into the embrace of his teammates. “I told y’all. Fate.”
Hours after the sun had set of Los Angeles Bobby Jones sat quietly on the club’s veranda, journal in hand. He leaves us with these final words.
“After three days of robust and, for the most part, honorable competition, we have found evidence that Dr. MacKenzie and Mr. Thomas’ designs have held the test of time and provided ample challenge to all players in this glorious field. I am hopeful that those who bore witness to this event will have the ability to truly appreciate the landscapes we graced. I return by train to my native Georgia with but one regret: we should have made a motion picture.”
It’s too bad Bobby didn’t have an iPhone.
Laz Versalles is a freelance golf writer and runs development for Accesa Labs. He is currently rebuilding his swing but turns down no Nassau. You can find him on Twitter @laz_versalles