By Chris Whitfield
University of Texas golf coach John Fields new he would have a strong team coming off of last year’s national championship winning season with four returning starters to a team that boasted rising sophomore All-American and Big 12 Conference Player of the Year Jordan Spieth.
But coming into the season-opening Carpet Capital Collegiate tournament at The Farm, Fields wasn’t even bringing all of his experience.
Fields set his first-tournament roster based on his players who qualified for the U.S. Amateur, and one of those was incoming freshman Brandon Stone.
Youth was served pretty well.
Stone and the Longhorns followed up their 22-under performance from Saturday by doing more than enough to protect their lead and hold off Georgia for a five-stroke victory over the Bulldogs. Stone, who had the low-round of the three-day tournament on Saturday with a 9-under-par 63, shot an even-par round on Sunday to finish at 12-under for the tournament. He finished two strokes ahead of Spieth, who was the low amateur at this summer’s U.S. Open in San Francisco, and Georgia senior golfer T.J. Mitchell.
Even though it was Stone’s first tournament with the Longhorns, Fields wasn’t surprised at the play from the native South African.
“This guy is far from untested,” Fields said of Stone, who is ranked 30th in the latest World Amateur Golf Rankings. “He has won at every level he has played at, and it is pretty exciting to be able to put an exclamation point on the opening tournament of the year.”
Stone said he was just happy the conditions affected everyone the same as the scores were pushed higher throughout the field.
“It was a struggle out there today,” he said. “The wind played a factor for me. It made some of the easier holes very tough and some of the tough holes nearly impossible. But it is such a wonderful golf course.”
Texas’ team score of 292 was 26 strokes worse than on Saturday, but that didn’t matter as the entire field ballooned as the greens dried out from Saturday’s wet conditions and the breeze picked up across the course.
“The hole locations were tougher out there and the wind blew just enough to keep it dicey,” Fields said. “Obviously, yesterday won it for us.”
The victory was especially sweet for the Longhorns, who started the season as the No. 2 team in the Golfweek rankings behind Alabama. The Crimson Tide finished third overall in the tournament, 14 strokes behind Texas. Tennessee was the lone team in the tournament to go under 290 in the third round as the Volunteers shot 287 to finished eighth overall.
“We got off to a rough start on Friday (a 293 that put the Longhorns 15 shots behind Georgia), but we know everyone on this team is capable of going low,” Spieth said. “Yesterday was better than we could have ever imagined, and then we did just enough today.”
Spieth was in position to challenge his teammate for the medalist honors, but one bad drive on the par-5 12th took away a lot of momentum. Spieth lost his drive to the left off of the tee, and had to go back to the tee box after not finding the drive. He ended with a double bogey, but his 70 was still one of the lower rounds of the day.
Clemson’s Stephen Behr and Tennessee’s Rick Lamb were the only golfers to break 70 on Sunday as both shot 3-under 69s.
Despite the runner-up finish, Georgia coach Chris Haack was pleased with the showing from the Bulldogs.
“We gave ourselves a chance, and we were in it until the last three or four holes we had a chance,” Haack said. “We will learn from this and be a little better the next time, but there is no doubt that there is no shame in finishing just a few strokes behind the national champions.”