The Pepperdine Waves men’s golf team was ranked top in the country last spring when the novel coronavirus pandemic prematurely ended their season and canceled a postseason in which the Waves had their clubs set on winning the program’s second NCAA national championship.
Well, 14 months later, and in searing, 100-degree Grand Canyon State heat, the Malibu bunch putted and birded their way to the program’s first national title in 24 years.
That’s right, the Waves, ranked sixth nationally, the end of the regular season, defeated No. 1-ranked Oklahoma, 3-2, at the Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., on June 2 to win the 2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship.
Waves coach Michael Beard, a former Pepperdine golfer, always believed Pepperdine could be the best golf team in the nation.
“Everyone that has worked with us and every player that we’ve had come through believes in that as well,” he said soon after Pepperdine’s championship triumph (according to the West Coast Conference website). “I’m just so proud of these guys. Our program, our university, alumni, all you guys here, it’s unbelievable. It felt like we just didn’t get to see it through last year and these guys came back better. It really wasn’t me; they just came back with more fire and more determination and motivation. These guys are so good. We don’t have to do much to motivate them.”
Waves senior Joey Vrzich was quoted, “I would have never thought this far coming into college, that I would ever be called a national champion.”
Pepperdine redshirt senior Clay Feagler clinched the national crown for his team when he nailed a two-putt from 35 feet on the Raptor Course’s 18th hole, a formidable shot.
Feagler said the championship being decided on the last hole was crazy.
“It was kind of surreal to come down to the 18th hole and basically have the last point just kind of on my shoulders,” he said, according to the WCC post. “It was nerve wracking, but it was exciting. I didn’t think I was going to be the final point here.”
“I like those moments,” Feagler added. “Being under the gun, being under pressure.”
Feagler trailed to Oklahoma’s Ben Lorenz most of the match; he was down two holes after the 11th hole. But the Wave won holes 12, 13 and 14 to take the lead. Lorenz tied Feagler by winning 15, then he won 16 and 17, before clinching the victory on the next hole.
Junior Joe Highsmith and sophomore William Mouw scored Pepperdine’s other two points.
Highsmith beat Oklahoma’s Garett Rebrand by winning holes 1, 3 and 4. He had a five-hole lead after 12 and clinched victory on 15. Mouw defeated Quade Cummins on the first hole and never trailed. After Cummins tied the match at 8, Mouw won 9, 11, 13 and 14. The Waves ended the match on 15.
Waves golfers Dylan Menante and Joey Vrzich were defeated by their Oklahoma counterparts in their matchups.
After Feagler hit the title-clinching putt, his teammates and other members of the Waves contingent raced to the 18th hole to celebrate the golf program’s second-ever national title victory.
Pepperdine won its first golf national title in 1997. This year was the third time in the last four tournaments that the Waves competed at the NCAA finals and the 11th time in team history.
Feagler said finishing the season with the national title in tow shows that Pepperdine golf can compete with the best college golf programs in the country that might have more resources.
“It shows that we can handle our own,” he said in a video interview with Pepperdine Athletics. “Pepperdine is a great school. I enjoyed my five years there. I’ve learned a lot and met a lot of people. I’m glad to be representing Pepperdine and to be etched in their history is pretty cool.”
Highsmith, the West Coast Conference Golfer of the Month for April, said the Waves worked all year for the title victory.
“It means everything,” he said. “For it to actually happen is crazy. It hasn’t sunk in yet. I can’t believe we really did it.”
The Waves won the program’s 21st West Coast Conference championship this season and Feagler became the first Pepperdine player ever to be a two-time WCC medalist via a playoff.
Pepperdine finished third in the May 28-31 NCAA Championships to have the chance to compete for the championship in match play. The Waves, seeded third, defeated sixth-seeded Florida State, 3-1, in the quarterfinals the morning of June 1. They downed Oklahoma State, seeded second, 3-0, later that afternoon in the semifinals.
Highsmith said Pepperdine didn’t play its best a few days in the tournament, but that Waves supported each other.
“We got behind each other and focused on making sure we did our part individually and made sure we played for each other,” he said.
Mouw said the team has a special bond.
“We trusted each other to come through for each other and that is exactly what we did,” he said. “It means a lot.”
Beard said in a Pepperdine Athletics interview he was proud of how his players performed under pressure.
“We put so much into practice and so much into competing at home that tournaments were actually a time to take a breather, really, because it was just so cutthroat at home,” Beard said. “We are excited about being national champions.”