Closing birdie sends clutch TCU into playoff with Georgia Tech to remain alive at NCAAs

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – As he stood on the ninth tee box on a brutally hot Sunday afternoon at Grayhawk Golf Club, TCU’s Aymeric Laussot knew what he had to do to keep his team’s season alive.

He had to make birdie.

So, the sophomore from Paris grabbed his trusty 2-iron, the club that had helped him avoid trouble all day, and split the fairway, leaving himself 170 yards into the green. His pitching wedge then found the back portion of the putting surface, about 12 feet away from the hole.

“At that moment all I could think about was my team,” Laussot said.

With the rest of the Horned Frogs gathered closely and holding their collective breath, Laussot put a perfect roll on the putt and sank it to move TCU to 32 over, even with Georgia Tech in a tie for 15th, to force a team playoff Monday morning for the right to play a fourth and final round at this NCAA Championship.

The 15th spot will be determined by a 5-count-5 format on hole Nos. 14-18 at 10:30 a.m. ET.

“I had a lot of birdie opportunities from that distance today, and I kept missing them,” Laussot said. “Then I missed a 4-footer for par on the seventh hole, and I said to myself, ‘Now you’re facing the wall, so just play,’ and I ended up birdieing 9.”

Laussot’s even-par 70 paced TCU, which didn’t have a player shoot worse than 73 on Sunday. On the final nine, while most teams were wilting, the Horned Frogs’ four counters combined to shoot even par with three birdies on the final hole.

“They just kept hanging in there and hanging in there, and it seemed like it kept going back and forth,” TCU head coach Bill Montigel said. “I’d look at the scores and one time we’d be in 18th, and then next thing you know we’re back on the number, and the next thing you know they tell me Ricky’s gotta make a putt to send it to a playoff.”

As the drama unfolded at Grayhawk, Georgia Tech head coach Bruce Heppler was sitting on his hotel bed and refreshing Golfstat.

“Every 8 seconds for two hours,” Heppler said.

Earlier in the day, the Yellow Jackets shot 15-over 295, the worst round of the morning wave by six shots.

“They were disappointed, and I was, too,” Heppler said. “We didn’t finish very well yesterday or today. And at that point, it seemed like a long ways away. We probably figured we were done, to be honest with you.”

But they aren’t. Georgia’s Davis Thompson double-bogeyed the par-4 18th to drop the Bulldogs to 33 over. SMU and Tennessee also came up a shot short. And now, Heppler will coach in a fourth playoff at the NCAA Championship. He was an assistant at Oklahoma State for playoff wins in 1992, when the Cowboys made the 36-hole cut, and 1995, when Oklahoma State took down Tiger Woods and Stanford for the NCAA title. As a head coach at Georgia Tech, he’s 0-1, losing the national championship in a playoff to Oklahoma State in 2000.

“You thought you were going home,” Heppler said, “and now you have a chance.”

While Georgia Tech is feeling a bit lucky to be in this position, TCU, which boasts all freshmen and sophomores in its lineup this week, is riding quite the wave of momentum. The Horned Frogs have been for the past two months.

After finishing 20th at The Goodwin in late March, TCU was outside the top 70 in the national rankings and advancing to a 31st straight NCAA regional appeared to be a tall task. But the Horned Frogs rallied, finishing second and first in two Phoenix-area tournaments (they beat Arizona State, Oklahoma State and North Carolina at the latter) to end the regular season before finishing fourth at the Big 12 Championship. They easily made it into regionals and then earned the final ticket out of Tallahassee, Florida.

The trend of clutch performances continued Sunday, so why not another day?

“I think at this point,” Montigel said, “just go enjoy it and have fun.”

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