The Tar Heels may have suffered a season-ending loss on Tuesday evening, falling 3-2 to defending champions Pepperdine in the 2022 NCAA Championship, but senior Ryan Burnett ended the season on a high note.
While his parents watched from the side of the green, Burnett put on a dominating performance, made even more impressive in light of his struggles throughout the fall semester.
“It was just so nice to have them there to support me and just happen to be able to see what I was able to do this week,” Burnett said.
Burnett went from UNC’s Most Valuable and Most Improved Player, ending the 2019-2020 season with a stroke average of 70.21, to being inconsistent in the fall lineup. At the start of the spring semester in January, Burnett made a commitment to stay focused on his game plan.
In the 2022 NCAA Championship, Burnett led his team throughout the competition, and finished tied for second in stroke play. In the fourth round of stroke play, Burnett found himself competing in a four-man playoff for an individual championship.
In the first round, Burnett had almost a perfect game, ending the day with a 1-over-par 71. He shot one double bogey on the seventh hole, but he immediately corrected himself with a birdie on the eighth. He also led the competition in pars with 16 on the day.
In the second round, Burnett recorded his lowest score in the championship, 1-under-par 69. He made four birdies and three bogeys, but still came away with the lowest score amongst the Tar Heels.
Head coach Andrew DiBitetto said he was proud to see Burnett’s effort pay off after putting in the extra work in the beginning of the spring semester.
“It’s not like you put in the work for a week and get results,” DiBitetto said. “You have to put in work over time. That's exactly what Burney did. And that's exactly what Burney got.”
First-year David Ford provided another consistent Tar Heel scoring presence in all four rounds, and finished individually in fifth place.
In his first NCAA Championship, nerves stuck with Ford, but he reminded himself to enjoy the experience. These gentle reminders helped keep him calm and execute, as Ford followed Burnett's performance on Saturday with a 1-under 69 performance of his own in the third round.
The similarities in Ford and Burnett's game gave them room to discuss shots and celebrate each other's success. Ford says he's learned a lot being around his older teammates that helps his game grow.
“I think those older guys are great," Ford said. “To show me how every decision I make is made for myself, and it doesn't matter if somebody else is doing it differently.”
Burnett and Ford continued to play well on Tuesday against Pepperdine, and the two became the first pair to finish in the top five of a NCAA Championship after the fourth round.
Burnett ended his tournament run with a loss to his opponent, Dylan Menante, after playing on the 19 to decide the match. Ford and junior Austin Greaser were the only Tar Heels to win their matches against their Pepperdine opponents.
Though the season didn’t end how the team had hoped, DiBitetto said he's pleased with what the team’s been able to do this season, and especially proud of the group's resilience.
“There's so many things in life that are out of our control, but our guys do a tremendous job of controlling the controllables in a positive way,” DiBitetto said.
UNC men's golf is looking forward to next season, with the entire team returning in the fall with the exception of fifth-year senior Ryan Gerard. With promising young talent, like Golf Coaches Association of America All-Freshman team select Ford, the team should be in good hands in the future.
Still, with a second consecutive top-five finish in the NCAA Championship, the UNC men's golf team is taking a moment to reflect on recent success before looking too far ahead into the future.
“I do believe this was a pretty historical season for Carolina golf,” DiBitetto said.