by Brentley Romine, Golfweek
BRADENTON, Fla. – Zach Wright was the only player to win a match for LSU in a 4-1 loss to eventual national champion Alabama in the semifinals of the 2014 NCAA Championship at Prairie Dunes.
A year later, Wright again won his NCAA semifinal match, only this time his team joined him in victory.
LSU eliminated Georgia, 3-1-1, Tuesday at The Concession Golf Club to advance to the first NCAA match-play final in school history, and Wright’s 7-and-6 drubbing of Mookie DeMoss set the tone for the Tigers.
“It’s always huge to get a point on the board,” Wright said. “It’s even bigger when you do it this early.”
The LSU junior, whose 72.3 stroke-play scoring average ranked fifth on the team this season, didn’t reach the 17th hole in either of his two matches Tuesday. He also made just one birdie in 12 holes against a struggling DeMoss.
“All I had to do was basically make par,” said Wright, who is now 4-0 in his NCAA match-play career.
Said LSU head coach Chuck Winstead: “He’s got so much offense, that he’s really good at match play.”
Wright’s teammate, senior Ben Taylor, also needed just a par at the par-4 18th to earn the clinching point for the Tigers. After Georgia freshman Zach Healy sent his approach long and left, Taylor needed only to find the middle of the green and two-putt. Instead, he stuck a 6-iron from 196 yards to about 4 feet.
“It was almost a shame I couldn’t putt it out,” Taylor said, “but I’ll take the win.”
As Taylor booked LSU’s ticket to Wednesday’s final, in which it will face USC, Tigers sophomore Brandon Pierce was across the water on the par-4 10th green.
Having just won two straight holes against Sepp Straka to force a playoff, Pierce was in good shape to complete the comeback: Straka was looking at a 5-footer for par, and Pierce was just outside of him for birdie. But as things turned out, Pierce, like Taylor, didn’t even need to make the putt. LSU was moving on.
The Tigers have four national titles but haven’t won one since 1955. They came close a year ago only to end another season without a fifth NCAA crown. It was, however, a great learning experience as Winstead said he witnessed his players get too excited, too early.
“It’s easy for guys who haven’t been there to be excited about being part way there,” Winstead said. “We were excited just to make match play, and that’s an evolution of a program. It’s hard for these guys to go to bed when they can watch themselves on television.”
Don’t expect that this time around, especially since LSU arrived at the course Tuesday morning at 5:15. Not that the Tigers care much about being tired, not with a national championship on the line.
“Everybody is tired,” Winstead said, “but when you’re playing for a national championship, 'tired' doesn’t work.”
Said Wright: “We came here on a mission. Everybody is hungry to do something a little bit more.”
LSU will trot out its players Wednesday morning in the same order as it did in its first two matches: Pierce, Taylor, Wright, sophomore Eric Ricard and senior Stewart Jolly. Wright draws one of USC’s toughest competitors in Sean Crocker, a welcomed challenge for the match-play dynamo.
“I love match play,” Wright said. “It’s my favorite thing to do.”
He and his teammates are pretty good at it, too.