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Austin Greaser’s 30-foot putt secures individual title in men's golf NCAA regional

Greaser at Duke 2019 (Mead).02.JPG

UNC men's golf player Austin Greaser at Duke in 2019.
Photo Courtesy of Ike Bryant.

This putt was never not going in — Austin Greaser knew it.

His golf ball rolled true toward the hole, dripping down the hill and breaking from left to right. Greaser shuffled to his left, raised his putter and uncorked what is best described as a fist punch.

The release of emotion was well-earned and then some. It had been building. It had been coming.

“It’s a big moment for him,” Greaser’s coach Andrew DiBitetto said. “He’s been right there, in contention quite a bit recently. And winning in our sport is so hard. You get your teeth kicked in, and you lose way more than you win.”

Entering the week, Greaser had recorded top-six finishes in three of his last four tournaments. At the ACC Championship last month, a long birdie effort on the 18th hole came up inches short — one shot shy of going to a playoff for the individual title. 

Deja vu on Wednesday. Only this time, the ball took an extra roll and rattled the bottom of the cup.

“I was telling myself, ‘This is what you practice for,’” Greaser said. “‘I’ve made these before, and I’m going to do the best I can to roll it exactly how I want. And if it goes, amazing, and the emotions will be great. But if it doesn’t, then we’ll keep huffing and puffing.’”

No need for huffing and puffing. The house has been blown down.

When all the scores were posted at the NCAA Chapel Hill Regional, the 30-foot putt for birdie on Finley Golf Club’s finishing hole was the winning putt. For Greaser, it’s his third collegiate victory and second in an NCAA regional. The three-time All-American previously claimed the title at the Yale Regional in 2022. His 13-under 197 total matches the UNC 54-hole record previously set by now-pro Ben Griffin in the 2017 Tar Heel Intercollegiate and leads North Carolina to its seventh consecutive NCAA Championship.

But emblematic of the game’s fickle nature, the putt on the 18th would not have mattered if it weren’t for what Greaser said was the luckiest break he’s ever gotten on a golf course on the previous hole. 

He pulled his drive left of left into the trees on the par-5. The ball settled on a piece of bark connected to a tree that had recently been cut down. Greaser could not hit the ball. He also could not move the tree without affecting the ball. He thought he would have to take an unplayable lie and incur a one-shot penalty. 

Instead, a rules official informed him the tree had been deemed ready for removal, and he was entitled to a free drop. 

A huge break in a huge moment. Greaser had put himself in position with a chance to win, and the golfing gods smiled upon him.

He pitched out of the trees back into the fairway and hit his third short right of the green. Greaser made what was a challenging pitch shot to a front right pin look easy. He played it low into a slope, and the ball trickled onto the green 5 feet from the hole. 

“I really rolled my putter well all week,” Greaser said. “I made a lot of putts, especially when it mattered.”

DiBitetto said Greaser is one of the best putters he’s ever seen. He made a long putt for a clutch birdie on 14. And he poured in the 5-footer for a miraculous par on the 17th. 

Coming down the stretch, amidst uncertainty over where he stood in the tournament and the scramble on 17, Greaser stayed focused and remained in the present. His mentality on the golf course is rooted in his faith.

“Life’s not about good golf, life’s not about bad golf,” Greaser said. “At the end of the day, it’s awesome that it fell my way today. But I feel like there’s more to life than just golf.”

On the 17th after making a poor swing off the tee, he took a step back. He said he thought about how, no matter what happens, he’s still the same person after the round is over. He made the best of his predicament, making a great par save, and set the stage for the moment on 18.

A good drive down the left side in the fairway. A good approach to the heart of the green. Then the putt. A putt that mattered a lot but also didn’t matter.

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“I had a pretty good feeling that one was going in,” DiBitetto said. “Been around him a lot, and he gets a certain look in his eye. And I think both of us felt pretty good about the read. Love to see the putt drop and then love to see the emotion come out.”

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com