- Texas will return at least four of its top golfers and maybe all five if Beau Hossler comes back.
- The Longhorns are Hossler's "insurance policy" if he chooses to return to school, which is still unlikely even with his shoulder surgery.
- Scottie Scheffler coming into his own after a painful season. Doug Ghim blistered all three of his openings at NCAA match play.
Not long after the gutsy Taylor Funk came up a bit short on the third playoff hole of the NCAA Golf Championships in Eugene, Ore., last week, John Fields sat on the dais for a news conference, flanked by his four totally spent players.
To his right sat junior Scottie Scheffler, who had upset NCAA individual champion Aaron Wise of Oregon in the final match, and junior Gavin Hall. On his left were junior Doug Ghim, whose win had drawn Texas to within one of a title, and Funk, the game sophomore who almost boosted Texas to its second national title in five years.
Junior All-American Beau Hossler joined his Longhorns teammates after being unable to play in the final because of a torn labrum he had suffered the day before.
Fields was disappointed but still beaming after the emotional, uplifting performance by his short-handed golf team, which took Oregon to the limit before losing to the Ducks on their home course to finish as NCAA runner-up. He was already looking ahead to the 2017 championships in Chicago.
Bragged Fields: “I may be sitting here with the NCAA player of the year for next year. I just don’t know who it’s going to be. Any of the four can be.”
That, ladies and gentlemen, represents depth. Serious, national championship contender depth.
“You feel hopeful you can be that guy,” said Ghim, who blistered his three NCAA foes in match play. “Everyone on our team wants to be that guy.”
And that counts Hossler, who won the Fred Haskins Award this week as the nation’s top collegiate golfer. Hossler will undergo shoulder surgery on Friday before starting a four-month rehabilitation and mulling whether to turn pro. As Fields put it: “The good news is he’s got us as an insurance policy.”
In other words, Texas is loaded. Again.
So the future’s bright?
“It’s brighter than bright,” said Fields, who was honored as the national coach of the year this week. “We’re recruited out (with commitments) for four years. We have a synergy in our program with the team success we’ve had and Jordan Spieth, Jhonattan Vegas and Cody Gribble doing what they’re doing. It’s kind of given us an opportunity to really energize our program.”
Texas received an added boost this week when Scheffler, who overcame severe back pain this spring, qualified for next week’s U.S. Open at Oakmont. The junior from Highland Park epitomized a Texas team that won seven tournaments during the 2015-16 season, including a fourth straight Big 12 championship.
Scheffler had a disappointing season, but finished strong and may be poised to be the next Beau Hossler, who is undoubtedly the next Jordan Spieth. That’s how it works in Austin nowadays. So who’s next?
It could be Scheffler. Or Ghim. Or Hall. Or …
“What’s remarkable about Scottie is his world-class short game,” Fields said. “He’s a great, competitive putter who’s significantly gifted with his wedges and bunker shots. He’s not only gifted with his hands, he’s also gifted with his imagination.”
The 6-foot-4-inch, 200-pound Scheffler — he added 14 inches and 100 pounds over a seven-year span — started his promising college career as NCAA freshman of the year and won a Big 12 championship in 2015 before back pain slowed his progress, sorely limiting his practice time.
“He was the No. 1 junior in America,” Fields said. “It was very difficult for him with his timing and golf swing. He was playing at 75 to 80 percent level on average until the last two matches. The measure of the guy is he never quit. He never wanted to come off the golf course. He’s invigorated now.”
So are the Longhorns, who will likely rank in the preseason top five nationally next year. They’ll be jostling alongside marquee teams like Illinois, USC, Stanford, Florida, Clemson and Georgia.
“Whether Beau stays or he goes, we have guys who will be ready to play,” Ghim said. “We’ll be relevant and be the team to beat. We feel we can make a run. We’re set up for success as long as we all stay healthy. We have a bitter taste this year, but we’re going to be hard to beat.”
Texas’ prospects of winning its first title since 2012 could well rest with Fields’ ability to find — or develop — a reliable fifth player. Funk filled that role this spring, and three recruits could be auditioning for the spot.
Those are former Westlake standout Nick Costello, Drew Jones of Decatur — “a real physical talent,” Field said — and Parker Sexton, the son of super-agent Jimmy Sexton.
Fields’ team was short-changed in NCAA final, in the minds of some, because of a long-standing rule that does not allow a substitute for an injured player.
When Hossler dislocated his left shoulder on the 15th hole in his second match against USC and couldn’t swing a club the next day, Texas started the five-match final down 1-0.
“I like the rule the way it is,” Fields said. “Some coaches would like to have a substitution rule. I’m not one of them. For instance, if I was to substitute my sixth or seventh man, most likely if he hadn’t played in the entire tournament, the chances of him winning a match are pretty slim. I like the rule just the way it is.”
He would support a rule applied in the Ryder Cup years back when the point was halved in the wake of significant injury. And if the round ends in a tie, the teams hold a sudden-death playoff with all pairings starting at the first hole.
“I believe we were given, in an odd way, a gift,” Fields said. “If our team was able to overcome this, we were given an opportunity to do something monumental. Most likely it’d be historical. And we came within a whisker of doing that. Scottie beat an NCAA champ, and Taylor became this courageous individual who carried UT on his back for three playoff holes. And I’ve still got those two guys on my team
“How can I complain about that? I have absolutely no sour grapes.”