Arkansas men's golf wins SEC title

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Sunday, April 28, 2019
Julian Perico of Arkansas hits a tee shot during the Valspar Collegiate Invitational at the Floridian on Monday, March 18, 2019, in Palm City, Fla. (AP Photo/Scott Halleran )
Julian Perico of Arkansas hits a tee shot during the Valspar Collegiate Invitational at the Floridian on Monday, March 18, 2019, in Palm City, Fla. (AP Photo/Scott Halleran )

FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Razorbacks capped a string of upsets in match play with a 3-1-1 victory over defending champion and No. 13 Auburn to win the SEC men’s golf championship on Sunday.

Julian Perico clinched the match with a 2-foot tap-in for par on No. 18 to down Graysen Huff 1 up, and the freshman from Peru celebrated by shouting “I love you guys!” to his teammates after giving a big hug to Coach Brad McMakin.

Perico’s release of emotions capped a wild tournament for the Razorbacks, who struggled with their travel, luggage and rental vehicles to open the week.

“That’s what it’s all about,” McMakin said. “These guys are going to remember this for the rest of their lives. They’ll always be champions together.”

The No. 37 Razorbacks won their second SEC title, following the 1995 championship. They were the No. 7 seed heading into match play while Auburn was the No. 1 seed. The Tigers had a 39-stroke advantage over Arkansas after three rounds of stroke play concluded on Friday.

“In match play anything can happen,” McMakin said on the SEC Network. “Just so proud of these guys and for the University of Arkansas. It’s been a long time since we’ve won a championship, so it’s nice to bring it home.”

Perico and juniors William Buhl and Tyson Reeder all notched points for the Razorbacks. Arkansas’ Mason Overstreet lost to red-hot left-hander Brandon Mancheno in the anchor position, while Luis Garza and SEC medalist Jovan Rebula were all square playing on their 19th hole when the match ended.

Perico, who was 1 down to Huff for six of the last nine holes, drew even with a birdie on No. 16, then lost a chance to go up on the par 3 17th when his birdie putt rolled right by a whisker. He blasted a 300-plus yard drive on the 18th while Huff teed off into a fairway bunker and had to lay up about 40 yards shy of the green. Huff’s approach was outside Perico’s 20-footer and Huff missed his putt for par, giving Perico two shots for the victory.

“When he missed the putt, I just lagged it,” Perico said on the SEC Network. “I didn’t want to screw anything up. I just made that little putt.

“It feels good to clinch it for my guys. Everyone played their [rears] off this week for sure.”

Perico won all three of his matches vs. Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and Auburn at the championships, while Garza, Buhl and Reeder won two apiece.

Buhl got the championship match started by winning his first two holes against Jacob Solomon. He took a 3-hole lead with a par on No. 13 and cruised to a 3 & 2 victory in the lead pairing.

“William Buhl got us off to a good start and got us that early point. I think that’s so key to match play,” McMakin said. “We were down through 13 holes, Luis and Julian were. They made some good shots and hung in there.”

Mancheno had his irons dialed in and was unstoppable in his 6 & 5 win over Overstreet.

Reeder, a left-hander from Edmond, Okla., took the lead over Trace Crowe with a win on No. 2 and built a 4-hole lead through seven. Reeder won seven holes on the day.

But Crowe inched back into the match by pulling within one hole on the back nine. Crowe conceded a short birdie putt on No. 18 to give Reeder a 2 up win, leaving the Razorbacks with a 2-1 edge.

At that point, the Razorbacks needed just one victory in the final two pairings while Auburn had to sweep.

Rebula, who out-lasted Huff in four extra holes to win the individual title on Friday, never trailed in his match in the third pairing, but Garza would not go away. The junior from Leon, Mexico, pulled even with a birdie on the par 5 15th. Garza just missed a 6-foot putt on No. 18 that would have clinched the championship for Arkansas, swinging the drama back to the fourth pairing between Perico and Huff.

In an interview prior to the championships with the Democrat-Gazette, McMakin said just getting to match play was the key, and he made reference to eighth-seeded Ole Miss’ SEC championship the previous week in Birmingham, Ala.

“You’ve got to get into the top eight so you get into match play,” McMakin said. “You saw on the women’s side with Ole Miss getting in there and being the highest-ranked team and they end up winning the championship.

“The goal is to get into the eight, which will be tough because our league is difficult. There are 14 good teams here. I’m just focused on them going out and playing three good rounds the first three days. You get into match play and anything can happen.”

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