EUGENE, Ore. – LSU’s defense of its national championship came to an end in the quarterfinal round of match play at the 2016 NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championships as the No. 3-seeded Tigers fell to the No. 6-seeded and homestanding Oregon Ducks by a 3.5-1.5 margin in the event being held at Eugene Country Club.
The Tigers advanced to Tuesday’s quarterfinals with a third-place finish in 72 holes of stroke play to become just the third team in the match-play era to qualify for the “Match Play 8” in three-straight seasons.
After advancing to the national semifinals in their first match-play appearance two years ago in 2014, the Tigers lifted the national championship trophy for the fifth time in team history a year ago with a 4-1 victory over the USC Trojans in the NCAA Championship Match at Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Florida.
By officially tying for fifth place at this year’s championship, the Tigers have earned a top-five national finish at the NCAA Championships in three-straight years for the fourth time in school history. They also finished in the Top 5 nationally five-straight times from 1939-43, as well as three-straight times from 1946-48 and 1953-55 before their current run.
“I’m so proud of our guys. I’m proud of the way they’ve represented themselves and LSU here this week,” said LSU head coach Chuck Winstead. “There’s a standard that has been set for our program where just going to match play and getting to the quarterfinals isn’t what we want. We want more than that. It’s what we’ve come to expect of ourselves.
“Our guys felt what it was like to go all the way and lift that (championship) trophy at the end. That won’t happen for us this year, but we’ll be back. We’ve got a great group of guys coming back next season that will be hungry to get back here and compete again for what we all want.”
LSU’s senior All-American Zach Wright put the Tigers on the scoreboard for the first time when he made par to win the par-four second hole and never looked back in a 2&1 win over Duck freshman Edwin Yi. He moved to 2-up with another par at the par-four seventh hole before closing out his match 2&1 with a two-putt par at the eighth to briefly cut Oregon’s lead to 2-1 in three completed matches.
Wright remained perfect in his career at the NCAA Championships while running his record to 6-0 all-time, joining former Augusta State star Patrick Reed as the only players with at least six wins without a defeat during the match-play era.
“Whenever you go up against one person, you kind of know what you have to do.” Wright said following the match. “I just really enjoy match play, going up against one person. It’s a lot of fun playing match play.”
With two points already on the scoreboard, Oregon’s NCAA individual champion Aaron Wise holed a 30-foot birdie putt at the par-four seventh hole to clinch his match against LSU’s junior All-American Eric Ricard, 3&2, and hand the Ducks a 3.5-1.5 victory over the Tigers on their home course. Oregon advanced to face No. 2 seed Illinois in the afternoon’s match play semifinal.
Ricard was off to a fast start in the match while taking an early 1-up advantage on his first hole of the morning after draining a four-foot birdie putt on the par-four 10th hole. Ricard remained 1-up through six holes after trading a bogey at the 14th with a par at the 15th, but Wise got it back to all square with a par at the par-three 16th and took his first lead of the match with a birdie at the par-four first to move to 1-up.
It was a lead the NCAA individual champion would not relinquish as he pushed his advantage to 2-up with a par at the second before closing out the match 3&2 with that 30-footer for birdie at the seventh.
LSU came out of the gate firing on all cylinders against the Ducks while winning the first hole of the day at No. 10 in all five individual matches. Through nine holes, the Tigers still held a 1-up lead in three of the matches, while Oregon has brought two matches back to all square at the turn.
The Ducks made their winning charge early on their second nine as Wise not only won holes Nos. 1 and 2 to grab a 2-up lead on Ricard, but Sulman Raza took control of his match with LSU freshman Sam Burns with wins on Nos. 3 and 5 before closing out their match by a 2&1 margin with a clinching birdie at the par-four eighth hole.
Tiger freshman Luis Gagne battled back-and-forth with Oregon junior Thomas Lim throughout their match as they went into extra holes all square with only Ricard and Wise still on the course. Gagne never trailed as he led by as much as 2-up in the early going after making par at the 10th and birdie at the 11th. Lim squared the match while winning back-to-back holes at Nos. 14 and 15, and pulled the match back to all square twice more with wins at No. 2 and No. 8 on their second nine. Their match was halved when Wise scored the deciding point for the Ducks.
In the first match of the day, Oregon’s Zach Foushee won four-straight holes on Nos. 6-9 to overcome a 2-down deficit to LSU junior Brandon Pierce with just four holes to play and earn the 2-up win in their match.
Despite their defeat in the NCAA Quarterfinals, the Tigers ended another historic season by advancing to the “Match Play 8” for the third-straight season, a feat accomplished by only three other programs in Oklahoma State, Illinois and Alabama. LSU also won three team titles during the 2015-16 season and finished third in both NCAA Regional play and stroke play at the NCAA Championships.
“It’s been a great year. The team gelled, and we had a great run there at the end,” Wright added after the match. “Every person on the team has played great this week. I didn’t have my best stuff. Basically, the whole team carried us. The freshmen (Sam Burns and Luis Gagne) played the best out of everyone here. They were huge and stepped up big for us.”