Dream is within reach

Jaguars meet Cowboys for NCAA title
Augusta State's Taylor Floyd had flulike symptoms, but still won his match 2-up.

 

OOLTEWAH, Tenn. --- Taylor Floyd awoke Saturday morning with flulike symptoms, a cause for concern for his Augusta State team.

When rain showers halted play for almost two hours mid-round, Jaguars coach Josh Gregory gave his sophomore an out. Gregory told him he didn't have to finish his final eight holes. The fighter in Floyd then came out.

"I wouldn't miss this for the world," he replied.

Floyd birdied three of the final five holes to win his match, and his teammates rallied behind his gutsy performance to knock off Florida State, 4-1, to move on to the championship match of the NCAA Division I Golf Championships.

With wins over Georgia Tech in the quarterfinals and the Seminoles in the semifinals, fifth-ranked Augusta State advances to play Oklahoma State in today's final, starting at 9:30 a.m. The top-ranked Cowboys, a program that owns 10 national championships, finished as the top team in medal play Thursday.

"My kids will not be scared of Oklahoma State," Gregory said. "They know who they are. They know they're great. But it's a name: Oklahoma State."

"It's going to be a dogfight," said Jaguars sophomore Patrick Reed, who defeated Brooks Koepka, 1-up. "We plan on trying to hand it to Oklahoma State. I guarantee you, they don't want to lose to us. It is going to be a battle."

Junior Carter Newman, who defeated Michael Hebert, 4 and 3, grew up in the Augusta area since age 1. He said winning a national championship would mean the world to his team, his school and his community.

"This is what we've worked for the whole year," Newman said. "This is where we wanted to be. The hours of practice on the range. The hours of putting on the green. And just dreaming that we could be here, and for this to become a reality, it's unbelievable.

"We're not satisfied yet. We've got one more match to win. We have to beat a very good team to do it."

Augusta State defeated an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent for the second day in a row. Henrik Norlander overcame an early two-hole deficit to Drew Kittelson, the 2008 U.S. Amateur runner-up, with six birdies and an eagle in his final 12 holes.

The Augusta State junior clinched the match for the Jaguars when he spun a lob-wedge shot from 84 yards out into the hole for the eagle at No. 17.

Before Norlander's heroics, Augusta State received a key second point from Floyd, who never trailed in his match. He led 2-up through 16, but Wesley Graham birdied the par-5 17th to extend the match.

One day after his Georgia Tech opponent finished birdie-birdie-par to defeat him, Floyd, who said he felt dizzy on the tee box, finally caught a break. His drive to the right clipped a tree but ended up in the fairway. After hitting the green, Floyd could two-putt and win his match, but he rolled in the birdie attempt to win 2-up.

"I wasn't even sure if he'd be able to go," Gregory said. "He played his heart out not only to play but to win that match."

For the second day in a row, a long rain delay halted play midway through the matches. The stormy weather only helped Floyd, who used the break to take medicine, lie down and eat a little lunch.

"That definitely helped," he said. "I was more worried about how bad I felt than the match. It's kind of sad, but it's true."

That he played at all was somewhat of a surprise at the start of the day.

"This morning, he didn't say a word," Norlander said. "He was too tired to open his mouth. "We were pretty lucky with that rain delay. He got some help."

"I was nervous because Taylor was not feeling well," Reed said. "I was just thinking we have four matches and we need to win three. Because of how hot it was, we didn't even know if he was going to make it.

"To hear him gut it out and win it was huge for us as a team, knowing that nobody out here is going to quit."

Augusta State, a Division II school that plays Division I in golf, now vies for the school's first national championship in any sport.

"We have nothing to lose," Newman said. "We're going to try to go out and birdie every hole."

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FOLLOW STAFF WRITER Chris Gay's coverage of Augusta State at augustachronicle.com and on Twitter @AUG_ChrisGay .

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