Not even a week ago, we here at Tar Heel Blog wondered aloud what could be the next North Carolina Tar Heels’ athletic program to win their first national championship. Right at the top of the nominees was men’s golf. That was in large part because they were good and their NCAA Championship event was coming up.
Little did we know, they would come fairly agonizingly close to taking that chance. On Tuesday night, UNC gold made it all the way to the NCAA Championship semifinals, before falling to Georgia Tech.
The championship began on Friday, with 30 teams competing in four rounds of stroke play. Led by Dylan Menante and Austin Greaser at -5 and even par respectively, the Tar Heels finished first in that portion of the competition, getting the top seed for the match play, knockout portion of the tournament.
For the next rounds, the top eight teams from the stroke play portion were put into a bracket. Each team would put up five different players to play a series of match play matches, with the school that wins three advancing to the next round.
In the quarterfinals, UNC were matched up against the #8 seed Arizona State. Many of the matches went right down to the end before the Tar Heels prevailed.
At the top of the card was Menante, who followed his success in the stroke play portion by dispatching ASU’s Luke Potter. The other four matches pretty much all went down to the wire. While the Sun Devils’ Josele Ballester beat Greaser to even things up, Ryan Burnett and David Ford each picked up victories to seal the Heels’ semifinal spot. Ford was down two holes with four left to play, but furiously rallied back to win. The fifth and last match wasn’t needed to be completed, but UNC’s Peter Fountain led in that match as well. That set up a semifinal matchup against Georgia Tech.
The semifinals proved to be even tougher. While Menante came out firing, winning his match 6&5, his teammates all had closely fought matches. Burnett and Greaser took losses in the next two matches, putting the Yellow Jackets within one of victory. Ford again pulled out a narrow win in the fourth match, meaning things went down to the very last match. In said match, Fountain and Tech’s Ross Steelman went all the way down to the 18th hole, with Steelman taking a one hole lead. However, Steelman hung on, dooming the Tar Heels to a 3-2 loss.
Despite the loss, UNC men’s golf has seemingly been getting closer and closer to a title in recent years. If they keep making deep runs like they did this year, they’re going to keep getting some good chances to bring home a natty.