TRINITY, Texas—True freshman Ty Dunlap drained a two-foot putt for par on the 18th hole at Whispering Pines Sunday afternoon to bring home the Texas A&M men’s golf program’s first-ever Big 12 Championship.
The Aggies finished the weekend at 13-over (296-286-286-297=1165), three shots ahead of No. 1-ranked Texas (1168, +16). The conference crown was the 11th in team history and the program’s first since capturing the 1987 Southwest Conference title in Houston.
“This is a tough championship to get your hands on and it feels great,” head coach J.T. Higgins said. “It’s such a great golf conference. You’re competing against Oklahoma State and Texas, who are two of the best golf programs in the country, and it seems the No. 1-ranked team in the country is in the field every year. You know you have to play your best golf to have a chance to win. I’m so proud of the way we finished and closed it out. Texas caught us, and we just battled back over the last three holes and we got it.”
The Aggies held a three-shot lead over No. 1-ranked Texas with two groups needing to play the par-4, 428-yard 18th. The Longhorns were able to shave two shots off the deficit before the final group, made up of Dunlap and Dylan Frittelli—UT’s No. 2-ranked player nationally—stepped to the tee box.
Both hit perfect drives into the middle of the fairway before taking aim at the green, which had the pin sitting up and on a false front that guarded a hard drop to the water. Dunlap’s second shot went to the back of the green, while Frittelli pulled his attempt just a little bit left.
Having to chip to get near the hole, Frittelli’s effort was hit too hard, and it caught the slope and rolled down into the water. Dunlap then stepped to his ball and pushed it within two feet of draining a nice birdie putt, but then cashed that in for par to set off A&M’s celebration of its first conference title in 25 years.
“It was a true freshman against one of the top 10 amateur players in the world with the Big 12 Championship on the line,” Higgins said. “He hit a perfect drive, a perfect wedge and a perfect lag putt. I don’t know what else we could have asked him. It was unbelievable.”
Competing without its top player, junior Cameron Peck—who is out with a back injury—the Aggies built a nine-shot lead heading into the day. Texas chipped away throughout, catching A&M in the latter part of the back nine. The Aggies, on the strength of top-20 finishes by every member of their lineup, held off the Longhorns to claim the trophy.
“The thing we knew about Cam is that mentally he’s the toughest guy on the team,” Higgins said. “He fights for every shot, never gives up and nothing fazes him. Nothing changes his approach. What we talked about is we have to take that attitude on as a group. Everyone had to be that tough to win this thing, and they did. Top to bottom, no one ever gave in. They fought all way through. It was never easy all week. The wind blew every day, the greens were fast and the course was set up tough. We overcame a lot of adversity. We gutted it out. We are so strong top to bottom—I know every guy on our team could make any lineup in the country, no doubt. That was the advantage we had this week and we played to it, and it was great.”
After nailing down the final shot, Dunlap found himself in second place to end the week with a 1-under 287 (73-71-69-74). He was one of only two players in the field to break par at the tournament, and his second-place showing marked the highest finish ever by an Aggie at the Big 12 Championship.
Texas A&M saw every player finish in the top 20 overall. Two placed in the top 10—sophomore Johannes Veerman, who finished 2-over for the weekend (72-70-73-75=290) and finished sixth, and senior All-American Jordan Russell, who placed ninth with a 6-over 294 (73-73-71-77). Russell ends his Big 12 career having finished in the top 10 in all three league championships in which he’s competed.
Senior Geoff Shaw posted the team’s best score of the afternoon, a final-round 73 that put him in 14th for the week with a 9-over 297 (79-72-73-73). Redshirt freshman Greg Yates finished 20th overall, hitting the clubhouse with a 13-over 301 (78-73-75-75).
“I couldn’t be happier for and more proud of Johannes, stepping in for Cam and playing the way he did,” Higgins said. “He got a top-10 finish in Conference USA last year (at Tulsa) and he finished in the top 10 this year at Big 12s. And Geoff—he got off to a really rough start in the first round, but probably played as good of golf as anyone the rest of the way. He was just nails and was so solid for us. He was gutting out pars and getting the ball up and down everywhere. It was an outstanding week for him. Those two guys were great.”
Texas Tech (+31) finished a distant third, followed by Oklahoma (+33) and Baylor (+35). Oklahoma State, which had won the last five Big 12 titles, placed sixth at 44-over, with Iowa State (+52), Missouri (+57), Kansas State (+75) and Kansas (+94) rounding out the field.
The title marked the A&M Athletic Department’s fifth Big 12 crown of the year (soccer postseason, women’s swimming and diving, men’s indoor track and field, women’s indoor track and field). With 37 conference titles since the start of the 2006-07 season, no Big 12 school has won more league hardware than the Aggies over the last six years.
Texas A&M will now await NCAA Regional selections, which will be announced on Monday, May 7 at 8 p.m. (CT) live on NCAA.com. Regionals will take place May 17-19 at one of six sites-- Greensboro, North Carolina (Grandover Resort); Athens, Georgia (Univ of Georgia GC); Ann Arbor, Michigan (Univ of Michigan GC); Bowling Green, Kentucky (The Club at Olde Stone); Norman, Oklahoma (Jimmie Austin OU GC); and Palo Alto, California (Stanford GC).
“We’re just going to really try and enjoy these next couple of days,” Higgins said. “We have finals coming up, and guys have to get ready for that. We’ll get back to practicing and make sure we’re ready to go wherever they send us.”
The top five teams in each regional advance to nationals, which are scheduled for May 29-June 3 at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif.