The University of Oklahoma men's golf team rallied to a fifth-place finish at the 2012 NCAA Norman Regional Saturday, earning the program's 33rd NCAA Championship appearance in the process.
OU, ranked 30th nationally, entered the final day facing elimination. The fifth-seeded Sooners, needing a fifth-place-or-better finish, trailed fifth-place Georgia Tech by three strokes after two rounds. But OU was 12 strokes better than the Yellow Jackets on Sunday and made the 30-team NCAA Championship field for a second straight season. It will head to The Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., for the May 29-June 3 event.
"The wind was blowing 30 miles an hour today," said OU head coach Ryan Hybl. "It was a tough, tough day. And even though it looks like we (advanced) easily, it didn't happen that way. It was the most pressure-packed I've felt internally, probably since I've been here at Oklahoma.
"I'm so proud of the way our guys finished off the round. This spring we haven't been able to finish a round in a positive way. But we did today, which is fantastic. I'm so proud of them. Coming down the back nine, we actually looked like a golf team that was ready to go to the national championship. So I was really excited for them to actually execute at the right time."
The Sooners were paired with Illinois and Georgia Tech for the final round at the 7,351-yard, par-72 Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club course. Illinois separated from the group midway through the day, and Oklahoma and Georgia Tech battled it out from there.
Over the final six holes, OU's five team members recorded seven birdies to finish the day with a 7-over 295 and a 9-stroke advantage over sixth-place Georgia Tech.
No. 13 Washington took team honors at the regional with a three-round 860 (-4), and was followed by top-ranked Texas at even par. No. 23 Florida State and No. 35 Illinois shared third place with a 7-over-par finish. Oklahoma was the final team to earn a championship bid, recording a three-round 874 (+10).
Michael Gellerman was tremendous for OU for a second straight day. After turning in a 5-over-77 in Thursday's first round that put him in 60th place out of 75 golfers, the OU freshman shot a 67 (-5) Friday to climb to 13th and followed with a 1-under 71 Sunday to capture fifth place. Gellerman recorded four birdies on Sunday's final six holes, and his finish topped his previous best showing of 11th place at the Big 12 Championship two weeks ago.
"I got off to a rather rough start," said Gellerman of Sunday's final round. "Things just weren't going right. I wasn't hitting good shots, wasn't making putts. My turning point was when I made a bogey on No. 8, probably the easiest hole on the golf course. It ended up being a good turning point; it kind of fired me up to start playing well. I made a birdie on 9 and finished strong."
Gellerman, who led the tournament in par-4 scoring (3.87), said he knew he had to come up big to help his team advance to nationals.
"I'm the kind of guy who likes pressure," said Gellerman, "so the last few holes I tried to put some pressure on myself to make sure that we got it done. And we did. I'm pretty happy about that."
Hybl commended his freshman's performance, but credited the team for a strong finish.
"Great tournament for Mike," said Hybl. "He played great all week long. But each of our guys pitched in somewhere along the way. That's why this deal's such a team effort. Today we came together as a body."
OU's Riley Pumphrey and Michael Schoolcraft entered the day in a tie for 20th place. They each carded six bogeys and three birdies Sunday to finish the event in a tie for 18th place at 5 over par.
Despite six bogeys on the day, Abraham Ancer turned in the second lowest round for OU. The junior was 4 over through 16 holes, but added to his team's late push with birdies on the 17th and 18th holes. Ancer finished the event with a share of 24th place with a 6-over 222.
Will Kropp carded a 10-over 82 Sunday and finished in a tie for 56th place with a three-round 231 (+15).
"I think we got a little help from the wind today," said Hybl. "It seemed to knock around some of the other teams that were here. But at the end of the day, we're excited to be going out to California and I know our guys are ready for the challenge."
Washington's Chris Williams earned regional medalist honors with a three-round 209 (-7). He beat Illinois' Thomas Pieters by one stroke.
St. Mary's freshman Jonathan De Los Reye defeated San Diego's Grant Forrest on the first hole (No. 18) of a playoff to earn the regional's individual bid to the NCAA Championship.