FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Greeted with applause from hundreds of spectators on the 18th green at Blessings Golf Club, Matthew Wolff was solemn until the final moment.
With a tap-in for par, Wolff gave a slight fist pump, followed by smiles and handshakes. On Monday, he became Oklahoma State’s first individual NCAA champion since 2006, finishing stroke play at 10-under par and five shots ahead of the runner-up.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” Wolff said. “I started off kind of slow, but kind of just was mentally tough and I told myself to kind of pick it up a little bit, give myself opportunities, and obviously, we have had a great year, so don’t let anything get to you. I had confidence in kind of just taking it shot by shot after that.”
Since going 4-over on his first nine holes, Wolff effectively tamed a challenging course, making incredible shots look routine and totaling 20 birdies through four rounds. He matched a course record Saturday with a 6-under 66 and followed with a 2-under 70 and a 3-under 69.
“Walking with Matt (on Monday) was a treat; it always is,” OSU coach Alan Bratton said. “He does some pretty awesome things. He hit an 8-iron from 151 on No. 3, which I thought was the best shot he hit all day, and on No. 12 he hit an 8-iron from 200 yards.
“So to have the ability to change speed like that was exciting. He worked the ball both ways and did a fantastic job of keeping his composure all week.”
Wolff, a native of Agoura Hills, California, picked up his sixth tournament victory this season, a program record. He headlined a starting lineup of five Cowboys who dominated the field and finished among the top 30 individuals during stroke play during their pursuit of a back-to-back national championship.
Teammates Austin Eckroat and Zach Bauchou tied for eighth at 1-over while Viktor Hovland tied for 15th and Hayden Wood tied for 30th. Wood in particular delivered his best round Monday, shooting 3-under to match Wolff.
“That’s been the strength of our team the last four years, our depth,” Bratton said. “We have a different guy step up every day. … Everybody had a round under par this week. So again that speaks to the strength of our group and you need that much in match play. Each guy can only get you one point.”
Match play starts Tuesday with quarterfinals in the morning and semifinals in the afternoon. Top-ranked OSU, which finished 31 shots ahead of the next-closest team in stroke play, will face No. 8 seed SMU, which prevailed in a playoff with Clemson on Monday night.
“When you earn the eighth seed, the consolation prize is to play the top team,” SMU coach Jason Enloe said. “They are one of the greatest teams in the history of college golf, so we’re just going to go out there and fight hard.”
Oklahoma also advanced to match play, becoming the only team to make it to that point in each of the past four seasons. Having shot 12-over Monday, the Sooners will be the No. 5 seed and face No. 4 seed Texas.
“We played really solid the last two days and it gave us a cushion today,” OU coach Ryan Hybl said. “Our guys did what they had to do today to advance. We’ve got a fighting chance and that’s all we can ask for as we head into match play.”