There are some storylines in which, despite their best efforts, the good guys just don’t win. “Game of Thrones,” “The Usual Suspects” and the Coen brothers’ “No Country for Old Men” are striking examples of antagonists swooping in unexpectedly to seize victory. If you like that type of narrative, the stroke play portion of the 2014 NCAA Men’s Golf Championships was not your kind of drama. Because in that story, Stanford’s Cameron Wilson first took the individual medalist honors, and then promptly proceeded to talk about his teammates — in classic good-guy fashion.
“It’s incredible, so glad I made that putt, this is surreal,” Wilson said immediately after his win on the third playoff hole against Georgia Tech’s Ollie Schniederjans. “I’ve got to mention my team first. I’ve got to say how proud I am of my guys so far. There is a lot of golf left, but I am really happy for all of the guys.”
The usually calm and stoic senior showed just the slightest bit of emotion after his final birdie putt hit the bottom of the hole, hugging his teammates and his coaches as they met him on the 17th green to celebrate the program’s first individual national title since Tiger Woods in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1996. Those embraces and handshakes released the tension that was clearly visible in everyone but the man walking the course.
The drama began back in regulation, when Schniederjans birdied the 17th hole, moving him into a tie for the lead with Wilson. Schniederjans, however, was playing several groups in front of Wilson, and entered the clubhouse at 6-under for the tournament with Wilson still on the course. Stanford’s lone senior in its lineup in Kansas, Wilson surpassed the Georgia Tech junior with his own birdie on 17, lowering his score to 7-under with one hole to play. But his initial iron shot on the 18th went slightly left into the rough, and his approach caught the wispy fescue before rolling into the greenside bunker. After his chip shot went begging, Wilson’s par putt snuck just right of the cup, and he tapped in for bogey to force a playoff.
“I was disappointed, sure, but I hit a couple shots that I liked on the last hole,” Wilson said of his final regulation hole. “The tee shot I hit almost exactly how I wanted to. Didn’t hit it that much further left than I was hoping to. And the second shot I did what I meant to, and the rough caught my club. I really didn’t stray from my plan that much, and I didn’t beat myself up.”
Not that there was much chance to. After confirmation that it would be just Schniederjans and Wilson in the playoff, the two Ben Hogan Award finalists quickly strode back to the tee box on 18, where the sudden death frame began. This time, Wilson’s iron shot found the sloping fairway, while Schniederjans’ swing found the deep rough on the left side of the fairway. But he was not able to capitalize on the birdie putt that ensued, and both men parred the hole and moved on to the par-3, 185-yard 10th.
Wilson had played the hole even during the three regulation rounds, with Schniederjans posting a trio of birdies on the course’s shortest hole. If there was any time for Schniederjans to take advantage, it was then — and, given his first shot, it seemed like he would. Schniederjans landed his tee shot within 10 feet of the cup, while Wilson was about twice as far out. Wilson left his subsequent putt a few feet short, but Schniederjans also missed his opportunity at the win, pushing his putt a fraction left. All the while, Wilson appeared unfazed and moved from shot to shot with his usual steely focus and precision.
“The emotional strength that he has and his mental strength, he doesn’t go through highs and lows,” said commentator Billy Ray Brown of Wilson. “He possesses a lot of power off the tee, but more importantly to me, I see him playing a lot of half shots and keeping the flight down. And the imagination he has around the greens. He has got great touch and I think he has a bright future ahead of him.”
That bright future was cemented on the third and final playoff hole, which took place where much of the action on Monday occurred: the par-5, 523-yard 17th. After going for the green in two during regulation, Wilson took a more conservative approach in the playoff, sending his drive down the middle, with the ball sloping slightly to the right into the thin rough. Schniederjans followed with an errant tee shot that missed wide left.
After his opponent stroked his ball back into the fairway, Wilson stayed safe and fired an iron shot just short of the green. By the time both were on the undulating, Perry Maxwell-designed green, Schniederjans had a 20-footer for birdie to Wilson’s eight-footer. With Schniederjans’ miss, Wilson solemnly stood over his ball, putting for the individual title for the third time. The shot was straight and true, and by the time it found the bottom of the cup, Wilson broke out his seldom-used, infectious smile and greeted his coaches and teammates as they moved in to congratulate their on-and-off-course leader.
— Stanford Men’s Golf (@StanfordMGolf) May 27, 2014
“I was a little nervous, but more than anything I was really excited,” Wilson told the media after the playoff. “I was really excited for the opportunity, and I made it a point to just enjoy the day and everything that came with it.
“More than anything, I was just really loving the chance to win and loving being here with my guys,” Wilson continued. “Once I knew from Coach that we were doing well in the team portion, I really didn’t feel that much pressure to win.”
Head coach Conrad Ray ‘97 put Wilson’s incredible accomplishment into great perspective after the round, lauding his senior’s humility and determination.
“I think Cameron is probably the most under-the-radar player here,” Ray told the media after the round. “He’s had a great year, but not many people have been talking about Cameron Wilson. So to see him pull off a victory today in our biggest championship that we know is really cool, for Stanford, for our program and for all the hard work that he’s put in and the efforts that he’s made over the last four years.
“He has gotten better and he probably doesn’t want to tell you about it because he’s worked at it. It’s come with a lot of trials and tribulations, ups and downs. I remember him freshman year, and to see him where he’s at sitting in front of you is pretty cool.”
Chalk up another win for the good guys, because Cameron Wilson — the person and golfer — is one of the best out there.
Contact Cameron Miller at cmiller6 ‘at’ stanford.edu.