It’s been a decade since the greatest national championship ever played. Hollywood venue. A-list players. Oscar-worthy moments. And a final that still gets two thumbs way up – and not just from the Texas Longhorns, who lifted the trophy that week.
This is the story of the 2012 NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, as told by those who had front-row seats.
This is Part III of III:
IX. SETTING UP THE FINAL: ‘THE MATCH WE NEED TO SEE’
With the field whittled down to just two teams, top-ranked Texas and stroke-play winner Alabama, the hospitality ballroom at the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica was decidedly quieter on Saturday night. The calm before the storm. At 10 the next morning, Nos. 1 and 2 would go toe to toe – and hopefully, one of the matches would pit the two superstar freshmen, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, against each other.
Jay Seawell, Alabama head coach: “There was a lot of pressure in this to find a way to get those two to play each other. People wanted to see that match, and I wanted to see that match to be honest with you. [Sophomore] Cory [Whitsett] was from Houston and had grown up playing against Spieth also, and he wasn’t scared of Jordan at all. There was part of me where I felt like Cory had a little mental edge on Jordan, but in the end, I wanted to see the two best players in college golf play each other. I can remember it was the fourth match, and [Texas head coach] John [Fields] put Spieth out there, and I had an option not to do it, and in that moment, as a fan of college golf and a fan of Justin and believing in him, I thought it would be an incredible moment for him, us and college golf. This is the match we need to see, and I think this is the match that could help us win a national championship.”
Fields: “Jordan came to me when we knew we were going to play Alabama in the final, and he said, ‘Coach, I don’t know how you’re going to do the pairings, but I just want you to know, Justin Thomas is a great player … but Coach, when I get that guy on the golf course, I have his number. So, if you have a chance, put me against him.’ And we did.”
Cody Gribble, Texas junior: “Jordan wanted Justin. Jordan wanted Justin really bad.”
Seawell: “I’m not surprised by that. I had asked Justin, ‘Do you want to play Spieth? Are you OK with that? There’s a lot of pressure and people want it.’ And he goes, ‘I’d love to play him.’”
Bobby Wyatt, Alabama sophomore: “I thought that was one of the coolest parts of the week was that gentlemen’s agreement between Coach Seawell and Coach Fields. … It was best on best.”
Steve Burkowski, Golf Channel reporter: “For the two best teams to say that we’re going to make sure our two best players are going to play each other, that’s remarkable. Because you’d think as a coach that you'd want to make sure your best guy wins, and they didn’t. That speaks to what they thought of the rest of their team and how much faith they had in everybody else.”
With Seawell saving Thomas’ name for Spieth, it meant he needed a new leadoff guy. He liked junior Scott Strohmeyer in the third spot and senior Hunter Hamrick last, so he went with Wyatt.
Wyatt: “Jay comes up and was like, ‘Hey, I’m going to send you out first. I don’t care who they put up there. I just need you to go get a point.’ That was a great mindset. It freed me up.”
Seawell: “Bobby was actually struggling that week with his rhythm. He’s hitting these good shots that me and you would go, Well, that looks good. But he was such an in-tune player, he knew he was just a little off.”
Wyatt: “I didn’t have it early in the week – and really all week. I was always a guy who liked to go hit some balls after the round, but not many. I remember just hitting tons of balls that week just trying to find something.”
Whitsett: “Bobby just plays at such a fast pace, so getting him first off was the best way to set him up for success no matter who he was playing.”
Will Haskett, NCAA.com host: “Fields would always send [sophomore] Toni [Hakula] out first. He was such a fierce competitor; small guy, but just a grinder. They had all these powerhouse players, but that was the guy that John always wanted out first because of his competitiveness and his fire.”
Texas senior Dylan Frittelli and Whitsett were picked to square off in the second match, followed by Strohmeyer and Gribble. That left Hamrick and Texas junior Julio Vegas in the anchor match.
Hamrick: “After the pairings, we go back to our hotel rooms, and I was on Golfweek reading about the day’s matches like any college kid. At the time, [Golfweek's] Lance Ringler, Ron Balicki and all those guys would pick the matches, and I remember not one person picked me. And then Lance writes something like, If there’s one match we could pick, it’s that Julio is going to win. No one was giving me a prayer. … I mean, I was going to be a two-time All-American. I wasn’t just some throw-in fifth man.”
Seawell: “I think someone picked us 3-2, so I couldn’t use, ‘Nobody thinks we’re going to win.’ But Lance had wrote the surest thing in the matches is that Vegas will beat Hamrick. So, we’re at our team meeting and I go, ‘Guys, this is an awesome opportunity, you’ve earned this right ... but just so you know, I’m probably not going to play Hunter tomorrow because according to everybody he has zero chance, and I just think in the center stage of a national championship, we do not want to humiliate him. So, you guys are going to play harder tomorrow because I’m probably going to choose to keep him out because I don’t want Vegas to beat him too bad.’”
Ringler: “It’s funny how we do something like that and that’s the only thing they can grasp onto. For whatever reason, if I said that, then it must’ve been something was glaring at the time for everyone to pick Julio over Hunter.”
Texas, though, was not void of last-minute motivation either. The morning of Sunday’s final, Thomas was named recipient of the Nicklaus Award, one of two college-specific player-of-the-year awards. He had also won the Phil Mickelson Award over Spieth as the nation’s top freshman, and he’d later take home the Haskins, another player-of-the-year honor.
Whitsett: “Great competitors will find anything for some bulletin-board material, and a guy like Spieth doesn’t really get a lot of that. So, anytime you get a little morsel to get an edge, why not use it?”
Scott Limbaugh, Alabama assistant coach: “Jordan got to have the intangibles. That’s the one player that Jordan could’ve played where Jordan gets to be the underdog. That stuff freaking matters, and anybody that thinks that it doesn’t ain’t done it. Jordan got to feel like the underdog in that match with something to prove.”
Thomas: “It could’ve [motivated Jordan]. But I fully expected to win that award. He had a great season, but I felt like I had a better season. Looking back, I wish it would’ve maybe happened after the fact so he wouldn’t have maybe played so fierce.”
Ryan Murphy, Texas assistant coach: “I don’t think there’s any question that announcement motivated Jordan.”
Spieth: "Absolutely. But I think neither one of us needed any extra motivation. We wanted to beat each other really bad. We’d been playing against each other since we were young, and at that point in time we didn’t speak a ton. I mean, we were friends, but just from junior golf. We weren’t like talk-every-day kind of friends. It was, go hard at each other and try to beat each other down as best we can."
X. FINAL: ‘LIKE A RAT RUNNING INTO A DRAINPIPE’
The championship match fell 40 years to the day after Texas’ last NCAA title in men’s golf. That year, in 1972 at Cape Coral Golf Club in Florida, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite and legendary head coach Harvey Penick led the Longhorns to the second of back-to-back national crowns.
Now, it was Spieth, Frittelli and Fields’ turns to bring home the trophy. But Alabama, chasing its first national title at the time, wasn’t about to go down without a fight.
Balicki, writing for Golfweek Magazine: “There was no David vs. Goliath matchup this year. This was more a clash of the titans.”
Burkowski: “It just all fell into place. The two most dominant teams throughout the regular season. ... It wasn’t a forgone conclusion, but this was what you were wishing would happen.”
Seawell: “I watch all five groups tee off that first hole, so iconic. Bones Mackay is on the first tee, everybody is there, it’s great. And before Hunter tees off, I said, ‘Hunter, I’m going to let you play this hole. And then after this hole, you can play 2 because you’ve gotta come this way anyway back to the clubhouse, but after 2, I’m probably going to have to pull you off.’”
Hamrick: “I eagled the first hole. Every time he’d see me on the course, he’d go, ‘Well, I guess I’ll let ya keep playing.’”
Seawell: “He just went off. He was 6 up through nine, and then on the 10th tee I go, ‘Do you wanna play the back nine? Because it’d be real embarrassing to lose a 6-up lead to this guy.’ And he goes, ‘Just let me have a hole or two.’ So, that was the theme of the entire day: Not, Go win a national championship, but, Y'all play hard because Hunter may not play.”
Hamrick, who routed Vegas, 6 and 5: “I did end up coming in early.”
Gribble: “I love Julio, but Hunter kicked, his, a--. Amazing. I remember Julio saying to his buddy, ‘I had nothing today.’”
Vegas: "I was gassed out. I didn’t have that much energy after the previous day. It's no excuse, but those emotions [of making the winning putt in the semifinals], when you go through that, I felt like I was out of it that last day. All the guys had one bad round that week, and my bad round came that day, which freaking sucks. I played poorly and he played pretty good, consistent. He didn’t have to do much."
Limbaugh: “You don’t know what kids are made of if you don’t live life with them every day. You just look at a piece of paper and think, Oh, welp, he’s ranked this, he’s ranked that, it’s over. I look at it a different way: Hunter had all the intangibles in that match. He was a fifth-year kid, he bled Alabama through and through, he had run through fire for that Alabama golf bag, and then he’s got people like Lance Ringler telling him that it’s over. And he’s just stacking those chips on his shoulder and buddy, you can write this down, he’s teeing off with a mental edge to him that Julio just can’t get there. And he just routed him.”
Hamrick: “In the end, I was very thankful for those articles.”
Gribble: “At that point, I remember thinking, Well, we’re four-legged.”
Spieth, who had shaken hands and hugged Thomas at the start of the match, wasted no time building a lead. After Thomas failed to get up and down from the front bunker at No. 10, Spieth was 3 up. Gribble had also fashioned a 3-up lead early on the back nine. Whitsett was clinging to a slim advantage over Frittelli after taking his first lead of the match with a par on No. 12. Wyatt trailed 2 down after four holes, and after battling back to take a 1-up lead with a conceded eagle at No. 11, Hakula reclaimed a 1-up advantage entering the par-5 17th hole.
Seawell: “Bobby was pretty much 1 down all day it felt like. I remember being on 14 tee with Justin, and I said, ‘Limbaugh, get to 17. Bobby needs to flip that match. Bobby needs a birdie on 17.’ The great part about Riviera is you can really see a lot of things from all over. Limbaugh was walking to 17, and he gave me the let-‘em-run sign, so I gave him a little let-‘em-run sign. A few minutes later, I heard a roar. Then I get a text from Limbaugh, and he says, ‘We didn’t get you a ‘4,’ we got you a ‘3’!’ So, I run immediately from 14 to 18.”
Wyatt, who hit 3-wood to 4 feet for eagle to square the match: “I wish I had a few more of those in my career.”
Spieth, who had just lost No. 13 as Thomas, kickstarted by an eagle from the fringe at No. 11, got the match back to 1 down: “I knew they were all square going to 18, and I go, Shoot, this is going to be crazy. I just wanted to stop playing and go watch Toni.”
Seawell: “After Bobby hit his tee shot, I met with him walking up that hill, he had 191 yards, downhill, with a little bit of a help breeze, probably 7-8 mph. … And to this day, I will never see a shot like that in my life. Remember, he had struggled all week long with his swing, but just like Bobby, probably the most competitive person who ever played for me, when he needed it, he hit a 7-iron that made a noise, and I looked at it, and it started at the flag and never left it. And I literally said, ‘Oh, please be as good as you look.’ He wasn’t quite Nicklaus in ‘86, but he kind of went, ‘It is.’”
Wyatt: “I remember being jacked up, which was never my M.O. I didn’t do well with that. I never got too jacked up because I was never good at coming back down. We were between a 7 and an 8, but ultimately, with the ball below my feet, we knew that an 8-iron wasn’t going to get there. It’s hard in that situation to judge the adrenaline, so I ended up choking down on a 7, and I pulled it a little bit, but it was right at it. The ball mark was about 4 inches from the hole, and then it unfortunately skipped over the green.”
Seawell: “It’s only about an 18-foot chip. But then you knew, it’s Riviera and that’s all downhill, down grain. Thank goodness it didn’t get deep into the kikuyu rough, it stayed just off the fringe.”
Jean-Paul Hebert, Texas volunteer assistant: “Hakula hits it perfect, middle of the green, 25 feet short right of the hole, and he’s first to play and lags it up there probably 2 ½ feet from the hole and marks it. And we just stand back and it’s like, All right, Bobby has to get up and down.”
Seawell: “I can remember kneeling down and saying to myself, Don’t fluff it, don’t gas it. Don’t fluff it, don’t gas it. And I never thought chip-in. I never did. It’s Riviera, those shots are so tough, and when it went in, literally, it took me to a place I still ain’t never been before. I went crazy, of course, picked him up and acted like a fool. It was the first time where I went, Oh, my gosh, we may win the national championship.”
Wyatt, who put Alabama up 2-0 with the 1-up victory: “That was the weakest part of my game when I got to school and something that Jay and I had worked on so hard. So, to chip in in that big of a moment was validation. I kind of blacked out. Jay had me on his shoulders. … Jay was so apologetic. He felt terrible. I think he felt like he overreacted and maybe was a little disrespectful to Toni, but that was just Jay in a nutshell. He’s an emotional guy, and I think at that moment he thought that we were going to win, and he allowed himself to go there.”
Fields: “After the tournament, he came over and apologized. But I don’t blame him for getting that excited.”
Hebert: “You had a feeling like, Man, they probably just beat us on this shot right there.”
Spieth: “When [Toni] lost that one and it was down to us three (Spieth, Gribble and Frittelli), and we had to win all three of them, then I really started to get nervous.”
Hamrick: “I had just finished my match and was walking to go catch up with Justin when I heard the roar on 18 for Bobby. Then I saw Spieth in the middle of 15 fairway.”
Fields: “Jordan hit a really good drive (he’s 210 yards out, and Thomas is in the right fairway bunker), and the pin was in the middle, inside this trough, and both sides of that green pitch toward the middle. … Jordan hits this 4-iron utilizing the hill on the right side and that ball goes up that hill and then, like a slow death – almost like that scene from ‘Saving Private Ryan’ when that guy’s going to stab the other guy in the heart, and he’s looking into his eyes and the other guy knows he’s going to die, and he says, ‘Hey, just calm down,’ but he’s going to put that knife in his heart. And that ball just slowly trickled toward the hole and, boom, goes right in.”
Spieth, who had been 2 up after Thomas’ bogey at No. 14: “I can see the shot from my angle. … I kind of pushed it a little bit and it caught the right slope and trickled all the way around and went in, and it kind of sealed my match against Justin. I went 3 up with three to play by making a ‘2’ there. He wasn't very happy about that.”
Wyatt: “No one can pull better or more special shots out of the hat when they need it most like Jordan.”
Spieth: “Every time we play a practice round here [at Riviera for the Genesis], Michael [Greller] takes a video of me on No. 15 and we're both like, ‘Hey, Michael, do you know what hole this is?’ And we send it over to Justin.”
Thomas: “I've stopped answering, though, because I know when it's here and he FaceTimes me, he's on 15. But now he FaceTimed Bones, and then he got me that way. He's sneaky.”
Gribble, who was 2 up on Strohmeyer on No. 17 when Spieth closed out Thomas, 3 and 2: “You’re hearing roars all over the course, and you don’t know if it’s Alabama or Texas. It was weird because I didn’t really have that good of a feeling.”
Fields: “Gribble had all kinds of pressure on him that year. And most people don’t know, but there was this question of who was going to play, him or our sixth man, Alex Moon. Cody was struggling in school, had a couple of different girlfriends, and he ended up really struggling at Texas A&M (T-29, 80-79-71) going into the conference championship and he didn’t make the lineup. And then we end up losing conference to A&M by a couple of shots, and it was just devastating because we obviously had the best team. ... The team was not happy with where Cody was. They thought he might’ve been distracted and wasn’t giving it his best, and so on and so forth.”
Gribble: “I was pretty burnt out, and golf was getting a little fuzzier in my future after college. … But Coach Fields put me under his wing. We’d practice before class, after class, and he got me back in a really good regimen where I fell back in love with the competition of the game. It wasn’t a huge fallout I had, by any means, but it put me back on track.”
Fields: “I really believed that Cody could help us, but I had to sell it to the team ... so what I did is I took a piece of paper, and you know how when you’re deciding whether you’re going to take a job or not, you put the pluses on one side and the minuses on the other and try to add it all up, and maybe even assign a value, and try and come up with the right answer? That’s essentially what I did, and it became clear on paper that Cody needed to be on that team for regionals and the national championship. And then I put that in front of the guys in a team meeting, and I made sure that they knew that’s why I was going with Cody Gribble.”
Gribble: “I remember that like it was yesterday. He put that paper down and my stats edged Alex out by, I mean, it wasn’t much. … [Coach Fields] took off a lot of the pressure because he let me know how much trust he had in me and how he knew I was going to be great.”
Vegas: “That’s why Coach Fields is such a great coach. He went with his gut, and it paid off."
Gribble: "Scott bombs it. He hits it a country mile. He drove the green on 8, and he hit the green on 17 with like driver, 8-iron. It was stupid. But I just poked it around and my wedges kept me in it. More than anything, I kind of annoyed him."
Limbaugh: “Cody laid up on 17 and then hit a nice wedge in there (from 85 yards to 2 feet for birdie) to close Scott out (2 and 1).”
Gribble, whose win set the stage for Frittelli and Whitsett in the only remaining match on the course: “After I beat Scott, we both started running, and I thought, I’m going to outrun him, too. I don’t want to lose anything today. And yeah, I ran my a-- up the 18th hole.”
Frittelli: “I heard someone in the crowd say, ‘Oh, Gribble is dormie and he’s on the green. He’s won that. It’s coming down to this match.’ I heard this rumbling, and I just took a deep breath. ... Now, it’s us playing for all the marbles.”
Frittelli had multiple opportunities to win tournaments that season. He had shared medalist honors with Spieth and Vegas at the Longhorns’ home event, but other than that, he’d finished runner-up on four different occasions while also coughing up the Big 12 individual title with that disastrous finish. So, if anyone had questioned Frittelli’s fortitude with a title on the line, they wouldn’t have been off base.
Frittelli: “That was the truth. I spoke about it openly, and I talked to my sports psych, Jay Brunza, and explained to him like, ‘Jay, everything we’ve done is to try and calm myself down and get to a happy place and like suppress emotions, adrenaline, all that stuff ... but I feel like I’m getting to a point where it doesn’t matter anymore and I don’t care to win.’ I said, ‘I need to get more committed and decisive and use that energy in my favor.’ We worked together to try to get my mind and body working and just be a little more engaged when I’m coming down the stretch trying to win.”
Wyatt: “I was super confident that we were in a great spot. We had Cory out there, an incredible leader and incredible teammate.”
Frittelli: “I remember being somewhat in control on the front nine, but the big turning point for me was 14. I felt the momentum going the other way, and I missed the green somehow and I chipped it outside of his birdie putt. He had maybe 12 feet for birdie, and I was like 15-20 feet. I made it, and he ended up missing, and we halved the hole. That was huge.”
Whitsett: “I had a few opportunities to break away in that match and I just didn’t do it, and anytime you’re playing a player of that caliber, they’re going to hit their stride a little bit and take over. And that’s kind of what happened. I got up and just kind of stalled.”
Murphy, who walked the entire match with Frittelli, who nearly had an eagle of his own at No. 15 and birdied to square the match: “I remember calling Geoff Shackelford because Geoff had written this book on Riviera, and he really knew a lot about the golf course. Anyway, he walked me through the each hole, and when he got to 16…”
Shackelford: “I said, ‘Look, they’ve made some changes to the golf course, and they’ve taken away a lot of the real sucker pins. However, there is still one kind of traditional final-round LA Open pin – and they haven’t used it every year but almost every year – on 16. They put it all the way to the right, and it has the same dynamic as 12 at Augusta, where there is just no smart reason to go at the pin the way the bunker is angled and cuts into the green, and I can tell you, just do not go at this pin. It’s a tiny green, play it to the center of the green, every time, and the worst you’ll have is a 25-footer.’ … It was neat that they picked up that information and ran with it.”
Murphy: “So, Cory went first on 16, and he hit the best shot, it’s eating up the flag, and I’m like, Oh, my god, he just hit this to 2 feet. So, it comes down and we can’t see it, and in our minds, Dylan and I are like, Crap. But I told Dylan, ‘Let’s just stick to our game plan,’ and sure enough, Dylan finds the center of the green and has about 25 feet, and we walk up there, and Cory’s ball is in the kikuyu. Dylan two-putts it, and Cory chips it out, it runs past the hole to 8 feet, and he misses and makes bogey. And I was thinking, Wow, Shackelford was right on the money there.”
Frittelli: “We were both just hanging on for dear life, just tense as hell, trying to get it to the end.”
Murphy: “We’re on 17 green. Dylan’s 1 up and he’s got like 2 feet for par, and Cory has 10 feet for birdie, and I told Dylan on that green, ‘Hey, D, he’s going to make this putt and these people are going to go nuts, and it doesn’t mean anything. We still have to go play 18, so just get your mind on that and just be ready.’ And sure enough, Cory made it, and they did. Premature celebration is what it was.”
Frittelli: “It seemed to amp Cory up and he got really excited, and I was like, That’s fine, dude. If you’re going to be that excited, go ahead, try and hit that 18th tee shot with a bunch of adrenaline.”
Whitsett: “100%. If I had to go do that again, I would’ve walked over to 3 green and walked back to 18 tee or something.”
Murphy: “We go to 18, and obviously Cory’s got the box, and he gets up there to play and this golf cart’s coming down the cart path. And it just keeps coming, keeps coming, keeps coming. Like this person was oblivious. So, Cory had to back off, and he was obviously irritated. This cart literally drives all the way down, in front of the tee box and across, and Dylan and I just looked at each other and we’re just cracking up. And … I think it was a Longhorn Network person.”
Seawell: “The Longhorn Network, bunch of knuckleheads. At the time, the Longhorn Network were doing a little bit of footage, and this is a guy who doesn’t know anything about golf and is just trying to get to the 18th tee, and that cart path runs right in front of the tee. Cory’s in his final waggle to pull the trigger, and he could’ve hit, but it just was enough of a distraction to back off.”
Frittelli: “He’s like, C’mon man, this is ridiculous! And I’m like, Here we go again, work yourself up, man. Turns out, it was actually a Longhorn Network production guy.”
Fields, laughing: “No, no. It was just a guy.”
Seawell: “I feel comfortable it was a Longhorn Network guy, and I’m going to stick with that.”
Whitsett: “That’s just golf. Not a big deal.”
Frittelli: “Anyway, Cory didn’t center himself, just kind of walked back into it and flared it off to the left. So, I’m like, OK, if I can find the fairway, big advantage.”
Hebert: “Dylan got up there and absolutely hit the most perfect drive you could possibly envision. Just like a 1-yard, baby cut, smoked driver up the right center of the fairway.”
Whitsett, whose drive ended up just in the left rough, leaving him a 6-iron in: “It was one of those lies that was hanging, so ball above my feet, but it was a flier, and balls don’t curve on a flier, but you also don’t want to hit a shot that moves a lot and you’re really in trouble. So, I was trying to marry those two aspects and they didn’t line up, and it flew a little bit and ended up not turning, so that’s how it ended up where it did.”
Seawell: “He just hung it about 5 yards left of the flag. It was close enough that if it wasn’t kikuyu, it could’ve almost bounced onto the green and left him with nothing. But instead, it was sitting right on top of the kikuyu.”
Thomas: “Cory was in no man’s land.”
Frittelli: “When I saw him leaning, I knew it was probably going long left. … That confirmed I’m hitting this thing 25 feet right of the hole, trying to land it in middle of the green and put some spin on it to hold it in the back right. I actually had the same yardage to our target that I had when I holed that shot in Round 2. Hit almost the perfect iron shot for that flag, to 30 feet.”
Spieth: “You want to just go down there and slap him in the face and say, ‘Just hit it on the center of the green!’ … He placed it exactly where he needed to.”
Fields: “Every team had an unofficial host that week, and ours was this South African member of Riviera, Selwyn Herson, and he had all kinds of information about the golf course.”
Murphy: “Selwyn had made a comment in the practice round when we were on 18, and he mentioned to be careful in the kikuyu left of the green, you can go right under the golf ball.”
Seawell: “The green is going away from you, so even though I loved the bump, and he did, too, it’s enough to think about because if you don’t hit it perfect you feel like you’re hitting it 20 feet past because that ball just keeps on rolling. And he has such great hands, he just says, ‘I really like hitting a little soft one.’ The guy is a first-team All-American, he’s a stud, it was the shot he wanted to hit, so I said, ‘I love it, let’s do it.’”
Whitsett: “We had a pretty clear picture of what we wanted to do. It’s kikuyu, so balls don’t really get through it sometimes. Yeah, it’s pretty obvious what happened.”
Limbaugh: “I was walking up 18 with Mike [Thomas, Justin’s dad] and Justin, and we get to the top of the hill and Cory is over the green to the left, and he takes this little swing, and Justin goes, ‘Did he just whiff that?’ And I said, ‘Do what?’ He goes, ‘I swear, Coach, he looks like he just whiffed that ball.’”
Hebert: “The ball didn’t even look like it moved at all. It almost looked like a practice swing.”
Spieth: “I turned to Toni, and I said, ‘He just whiffed it.’ We couldn’t believe it.”
Whitsett: “At that time, you have a million different thoughts running through your head. First one was, Did I really just do that?”
Thomas: “Cory has one of the best short games I’ve ever seen. He hits a normal chip for him, it’s up there 5-10 feet, and then you see what Dylan does. It just sucked because Cory didn’t deserve all that heat. [Scott and I] should’ve won our matches and his wouldn’t have mattered.”
Wyatt: “I wouldn’t have even attempted the shot because I simply didn’t have it in the bag, and Cory was one of the few people who did. He’s left-handed, so it was a cut-spin shot for him that could’ve worked. Anyone who’s spent any time in kikuyu grass has whiffed it a time or two, and it was just unfortunately at a bad time.”
Seawell: “You can go hit that shot in your front yard if you want to, but there’s not many places in the world that have that grass on a golf course. He just went right up under it. Literally didn’t move it. Then he hit it to 12 inches. It was a gimme.”
Frittelli: “No, he had it marked. If he had the quick hands to go under one, I was definitely going to make him putt a 2-footer to take it to extra holes if anything crazy happened.”
Murphy: “Generally, Dylan and I would read the putt together, and so I came up and I started to point, and I was going to say, ‘You seeing this spot right here?’ But before I could finish my sentence, Dylan said, ‘I got it, Murph.’”
Frittelli: “Big 12s obviously wasn’t great execution, but I look at that as a pivotal moment. When you get in a situation that’s bigger than anything you’ve ever been in before, you’ve gotta see how you react, and you can only learn by being in those situations. … For me, that was the biggest moment that I’d been in. We were leading the team event and I was leading individually. I doubled 16, missed the green just right, it rolled into the water, hit it to 4 feet and missed it. Made a decent par at 17, and on 18, I was in the middle of the fairway, just needed to put it on the green and pretty much two-putt for the win, and I’ll never forget, I hit a beautiful drive, had like 165 to the pin, downwind, and I see Coach Fields marching back down the fairway, and I’m thinking, What is he doing now? Coach Murphy had walked with me the entire day, and now Fields gives me each player’s yardage and the club that they’ve hit into this green, and I eventually looked at both of them and said, ‘Guys, c’mon, I need to hit a golf shot here. This is too much information. Let me just be committed and hit a solid 9-iron.’ But there was so much in my head that I ended up smashing a 9-iron, just to make sure it got over the water and over the false front, and it went into a back bowl. Then I misjudged the chip shot from there, and it ended up rolling off the front of the green and into the water. That moment was pretty shocking. I’m not blaming coach for it, but he definitely added extra stress into that situation. So, that’s something I learned: Have the courage to tell your coach to back off and get outta there.”
Murphy: “When a player says I got it, that’s your cue to step aside. And he did, he obviously had it.”
Haskett’s call on the live stream: “Frittelli now is going to have two putts for the third championship in Texas school history…”
Frittelli: “I was trying to get it inside of 2-3 feet, and I ended up hitting it a little bit firm. I didn’t want to leave it short and have the crowd react.”
Spieth: “Right when he hit it, he killed it, and I remember going, ‘Crap, sit down, sit down!’”
Murphy: “That ball was hummin’. I mean, hummin’! If it misses the hole, he probably has 3 ½ to 4 feet coming back, downhill, on Poa annua.”
Haskett, completing his call: “… and it’s only going to take one!”
Seawell: “It’s kind of like one of those half-court shots, you just see it from a long way out and you’re like, That’s probably going to go in, and it literally went right in the middle. Now, it did move the hole about 2 inches.”
Hebert: “That thing went into the hole faster than you’ve ever seen a ball go into a hole. It just dove in like a rat running into a drainpipe.”
Fields: “My son and I had been down on 17 green to witness Cody closing out his match, and then we went up the right side of the fairway. I’m like 250 pounds at that point, so I’m grinding up that cart path. And we don’t see Dylan make that putt, but we hear this incredible roar. And at that moment, I’m thinking, OK, somebody just won. ... Then I see the guys rolling around on the green, so I knew it was us.”
Murphy: “I remember the guys just dogpiling Dylan. I was kind of in shock. It’s a lot, man. It’s like, Holy cow, I can’t believe it just came down to that and it happened like that. It’s almost too much really.”
Frittelli: “When I’ve seen it back, I know what happened after I made the putt, but when it happened, I just remember looking back to the guys. That was the first thing I did, putt went in, and I just looked straight to where the guys were because that was my main thought, to celebrate with them. I just remember jumping on somebody, it ended up being Kramer Hickok. And then all of a sudden, I found myself on my own, and I was a little bit emotional.”
Hebert: “It was a 20-minute-long hug-fest. I’m sitting there grabbing Cody Gribble by the ears, telling him, ‘Dude, you just won a championship, went 3-0! Can you believe we actually did this?’ Then there was this older gentleman, one of those UT superfans who doesn’t miss a sporting event. He’s kind of like the John 3:16 guy of Texas Longhorn sports…”
Fields: “Scott Wilson, he’s a retired lawyer, and he drove out there in his Cadillac with horns on the front of it. So, we’re on the 18th hole after we won, he’s got this big Texas voice, and he starts singing the ‘Eyes of Texas,’ and everybody just puts up their horns and sings. It was a moment that no one would’ve thought of, except he did.”
The Eyes of Texas are upon you,
All the livelong day.
The Eyes of Texas are upon you,
You cannot get away.
Do not think you can escape them
At night or early in the morn.
The Eyes of Texas are upon you
‘Til Gabriel blows his horn.
Spieth: "I didn’t feel extra pressure. I was 18 years old. I was just playing to play. ... [Coach Fields] may look at it one way, but to us, it was the icing on the cake for a special year. ... We were having fun. I mean, thinking back, it makes you wanna go play that way now. It’s just so different when you’re traveling with the team and pumping each other up and stuff like that. And, you know, now we’re rooting against everybody we’re playing against. So, it’s a bit different, but I certainly miss those days. It’s crazy it’s been 10 years."
XI. EPILOGUE: ‘THIS IS A GIFT’
As the Texas faithful began to celebrate, Whitsett sauntered over to retrieve his mark. He slipped it into his pocket, turned around and was met by Seawell, who immediately embraced his shocked sophomore. Several moments later, with the scene behind him still bustling, Whitsett quietly retreated to his golf bag, crouched down, and for a few seconds, he lost it.
“That part’s a little foggy,” Whitsett said. “A lot of tears shed.”
A decade later, it’s no surprise that certain painful memories elude Whitsett. But he’s found some solace, after all these years, in that this national championship isn’t remembered for his shortcomings but rather Frittelli’s heroics.
“It probably softened the blow a touch,” admitted Whitsett, who still considers Riviera his favorite golf course in the world.
Similar logic explains why Seawell, as Frittelli’s ball raced toward the hole, was pulling for the putt to fall. Sure, he would’ve rather seen a three-putt, but with such an outcome unlikely, he was glad the match ended the way it did.
“I’m thankful for a lot of things that week,” Seawell said, “but what I’m most thankful for, which I love, is that to this day it’s still framed as Dylan making the putt to win. It gave Texas the moment you want. Instead of both teams walking up and shaking hands, it was a celebration. It was great for them and sucked for us, but I’m so thankful that it wasn’t about Cory.”
Added Wyatt: “Dylan made birdie to win the match. Period. End of story.”
Wyatt adds that without the image of the Longhorns dogpiling each other “seared into all of our brains,” the Crimson Tide don’t win each of the next two NCAA titles, at Capital City Club in 2013 and Prairie Dunes in 2014. Wyatt and Whitsett were integral parts of both championship lineups.
“That gut-wrenching feeling of just watching the elation of the other side celebrating right where we had pictured ourselves winning it, that was all we needed,” Wyatt said, “and it kept us fueled for the rest of our college career.”
Thomas stayed one more season, helping Alabama to that maiden national crown, but for Hamrick and Limbaugh, that runner-up at Riviera was the last time that either donned the crimson and white.
The night before the final, Limbaugh had missed a call from an area-code 615 number – it was Brandt Snedeker, Vanderbilt’s most famous golf alum, who had left a voicemail saying the Commodores were interested in Limbaugh becoming their head coach. He didn’t return Snedeker’s call until after the final, but Limbaugh would end up getting the job. Hamrick, meanwhile, had graduated and was set to play U.S. Open sectional qualifying the next day in his first start as a professional.
“I'm almost going to cry,” Seawell says. “I can remember the huddle. All of us thought we were going to win, and I can remember the real empty feeling as a coach, you have young people in front of you and the realization is that you’re not, and I can remember we’re holding the runner-up trophy, and I said, ‘I would rather coach this team with this trophy than any other team with that trophy.’”
Added Limbaugh: “It was a weird feeling. I was disappointed, but I was proud. You just knew you had just watched heavyweights, and we were sitting there like, ‘Golly, that was the best week of our lives – and we lost.’”
Seawell: “It’s still my favorite year I’ve ever coached.”
Less than two hours after Frittelli’s magical make, both squads were in the air. Hamrick, Thomas, Whitsett and Wyatt were on a private flight that would drop each of them off at their sectional sites – Whitsett in Houston, Hamrick and Wyatt in Memphis, and Thomas in Columbus, Ohio. “It was like a little carpool line,” Hamrick quipped. Seawell, Limbaugh, Strohmeyer and Seawell’s family headed back to Tuscaloosa on a Southwest flight. And the entire Texas team boarded its own charter for Austin, with its scratched trophy in tow (Gribble had dropped it in Riviera’s parking lot).
“It might’ve been me, or Jordan, or anybody,” Gribble said. “It was – yes, it was probably me. I was running around with it like a football.”
When the Longhorns’ jet was in descent, the pilot circled around UT Tower, which was lit up burnt orange to commemorate the team’s special achievement.
“Surreal,” Murphy said. “It was a moment for us.”
The plane landed around 9 p.m. local time, and headed straight to bed were Spieth, Frittelli and Murphy. Spieth and Frittelli had sectional tee times the next morning at Lakeside Country Club in Houston, and Murphy was supposed to drive and caddie for Frittelli. A tired Spieth contemplated withdrawing, but at 2:50 a.m., Murphy’s phone rang; Spieth had changed his mind and needed a ride, too.
“I’m like, OK, jump in,” Murphy recalls. “It ended up being an NCAA violation.”
When they arrived at the golf course, Spieth didn’t have a caddie, so the head pro called a high-school golfer, who ended up toting Spieth’s bag using a pushcart. Spieth finished his two rounds, paid his caddie and the kid left.
“But Jordan’s in a playoff,” Murphy adds, “and ironically, he’s in a playoff with Cory Whitsett (who would be eliminated on the first extra hole). “And he’s like, ‘Hey, Murph, I need a caddie, my guy left.’ So, I jump in there and push this pushcart for him, which is a violation as well.”
Added Fields: “We provided transportation for Jordan, which we were not supposed to do. And then Coach Murphy caddied for Jordan, which was coaching out of season. So, we turned it all in, and the NCAA gave us a penalty, and then Jordan had to make a donation.”
Spieth ended up being first alternate, and he eventually got into the U.S. Open field at Olympic Club after a player withdrew with a rib injury. That player was Snedeker. Spieth would later earn low-amateur honors while Hamrick, who qualified as well, contended until a final-round 77 knocked him back to T-46. Wyatt failed to get through a playoff of his own, in Memphis.
“I remember just crying,” Wyatt said. “I cried for two hours after I lost that playoff. I was not a crier after golf. Ever. But all the emotions of the past week just hit me. It showed just how much that past week had meant.”
Fields calls it the mountaintop. Weighed down by pressure, the climb wasn’t easy, yet he and his Longhorns endured, and after six days at Hogan’s Alley, they had reached the pinnacle of college golf. The trophy was theirs, and as tears flowed from the eyes of their opponents, Fields also was flooded by emotion as he hugged his wife, Pearl, and their two children, Marshall and April.
A heavy weight had indeed been lifted.
Ten years later, Fields is healthy, and so, too, is his program. Texas hasn’t added to its NCAA title haul, but the Longhorns have twice been national runners-up, in 2016 and 2019, and collected five Big 12 championships, in 2013-17.
“Coach Fields would run marathons for us,” Gribble said. “He would drive us to workouts in the morning just because we didn’t want to park. … He’s a great man, and everything that has fallen into place since 2012 has been very much earned.”
Fields hasn’t forgotten, though, what it’s taken to get here.
“I suppress it on a daily basis, but it’s still there, you don’t get rid of that,” Fields said of past trauma. “The one thing that really helped me is in 2002, when [legendary Texas baseball coach] Augie Garrido won their national championship, their first one, he was under a lot of pressure. They had some NCAA violations, the donors and alumni weren’t happy, the team wasn’t playing great, and lo and behold, they win the national championship. So, he was asked afterward, ‘Augie, there were a lot of people who wanted your head this year, they wanted you out. What do you say to them now?’ And he just simply looked at the guy and said, ‘This is a gift to them.’ At that moment, he let it all go, and he put it back on them and he said, you know what, I’m bigger and stronger, and I’m going to give you this gift, even though you wanted me crucified.
“I was blown away when he said that, and I felt the same way: You know what, this is a gift for our donors and our alumni. It’s the culmination, but it’s also the beginning and the rebirth of Texas golf.”
– Information and quotes from team sports information departments, Golf Channel and Golfweek Magazine archives and Longhorn Network’s documentary, “Unmatched,” were used in this report