As if to illustrate the historical difficulty No. 1 seeds have encountered in NCAA match play, the Cal Men's Golf Team's quarterfinal battle against No. 8 seed ASU came down to the final hole of the final match, where Brandon Hagy secured a 2-up individual win and a 3-2 Golden Bear victory.
The Bears got off to a slow start, with ASU taking 1-up leads in three matches on the front nine. The momentum began to turn for the Bears when senior leader and NCAA Individual Champion Max Homa took a 2-up lead against a surprisingly consistent Trey Ka'ahanui on the difficult 8th and 9th holes. Homa was never challenged on the back nine, putting the first point up for the Bears, 3&2.
Joel Stalter notched the Bears' second point. After going 2-down early, Stalter did not lose another hole to fellow European Max Rottluff, taking a lead with a birdie on the par 5 12th, and never leaving Rottluff any openings the rest of the way as he closed on the 18th hole 1-up.
The rest of the Bears, however, were having their difficulties. After taking a 1-up lead on the resilient Austin Quick, Michael Weaver left his second shot in the greenside bunker on 17. Quick capitalized to square the match, then after both players missed makeable birdie attempts on 18, Quick drained a 12-footer in the first playoff hole to get ASU on the board.
The Sun Devils' second point followed shortly from Spencer Lawson. Top ranked Michael Kim never got anything going against Lawson, who birdied 13 and 15 to take a 2-up lead that Kim never recovered from.
That left the fate of the Bears season in Hagy's hands. Cruising with a 2-up lead against Jon Rahm, ASU's best player, he blasted his second shot long and left on 16, followed with a poor flop shot, and was left with only a 1-up lead and two holes to play. That lead, and Cal's season looked increasingly tenuous when a gust of wind put Hagy's second on 17 into the same bunker Weaver had found earlier. However, Rahm was having troubles of his own, and a hole halved with bogey kept Hagy's lead at 1-up. Needing to halve 18 to secure a semi-final berth, Hagy hit what, to this point, was the shot of the Cal season. He had 138 yards to the hole, a perfect gap wedge, and he stuck that gap wedge to 3 feet. When Rahm's 12 foot birdie attempt missed, Hagy's birdie was conceded and the Bears found themselves with a Saturday date to play Big-10 champion Illinois for the right to advance to Sunday's championship.
Illinois beat defending champion Texas 3-2, and Saturday's matches are as follows:
Weaver v Belgian freshman Thomas Detry, who has extensive match play experience.
Stalter v freshman Charlie Danielson, a long hitter who can be wild off the tee.
Homa v Belgian junior Thomas Pieters in a marquee match featuring the last two NCAA individual champions.
Kim v sophomore Brian Campbell, a workmanlike opponent similar to his matchup in the first round.
Hagy v sophomore Alex Burge, who struggled mightily and failed to break 80 in the Illini's regional qualifier, but who has bounced back this week with 72-74-69 and then a critical victory over Texas star Cody Gribble to clinch a berth in the semis.