With the color drained from his face and a sweaty shirt pasted to his body, Verplank looked as if he wouldn't make the parking lot, much less the final round, but Bob Verplank predicted the effects of Friday's ordeal would not linger. "He'll drink 10 gallons of water tonight and be ready to go."
Dad was right. Looking fresh and fit the next morning, Verplank birdied the first two holes. At the turn, he had a six-stroke lead on Herrera and Weber State's Carito Villaroman, and there was little doubt that Verplank would erase the memory of his freshman year, when he tied for first but lost in a four-way playoff.
What no one anticipated was the wild 20-stroke swing that took host Wake Forest from a fifth-place tie to a four-stroke victory, giving coach Jesse Haddock his third national title in 12 years. The charge was led by senior Chris Kite, seven over after three rounds, who caught fire and shot 66. The gallery roaring for Kite's back-nine feats, according to teammate Billy Andrade, provided the inspiration for his own 69 and a 69 by freshman Len Mattiace. "We heard Chris was two under, four under, five under...and the crowd kept roaring. That's something I'd never heard before. It just went through the whole team."
What Verplank felt when he heard the crowd roar on 18 could be guessed from his posture of despair. He pulled himself together enough to throw an approach close to the flag for a two-putt par, but he couldn't forgive himself for giving four shots back to par on the back side, when he thought the Cowboys had a safe lead. "I didn't even know Wake was playing well till the 17th," he told reporters, dabbing at his eyes with a dirty towel. On Thursday, when someone asked if the team results meant as much to him as the individual scores, Verplank had answered, "More. Whether you all believe that or not, it's the truth." Now, embarrassed by his tears, he said, "I guess you believe it now when I tell you the team was important to me."
Addressing the crowd during the awards ceremony, OSU's coach, Mike Holder, choked up too. "For the last four years I've had the privilege of having probably the greatest player...person...ever to play college golf on my team. If he never wins another golf tournament, he's still going to be Number 1 in my eyes."
The cheers and yelps this time were for the unhappy Verplank. "Tomorrow, he'll be a pro," said his father. The chorus of approval said something more, something lasting. Scott Verplank's last hours as an amateur were his finest.