Early exit doesn’t dampen Goecke’s NCAA experience

Credit: USGA Museum

Credit: USGA Museum

When Tyler Goecke was left off Illinois’ roster for the Big Ten tournament, he took a quick swing home to see his fiancé graduate from Wright State and then, as he put it, hit the reset button.

“I wasn’t even guaranteed one more event after the Big Ten. I still had to qualify to get into the lineup for the (NCAA) regionals. I just told myself, ‘This is it. Let’s go out on a high,’” he said.

The Carroll High School grad certainly did that. Playing for the Illini with his fifth year of eligibility, he won a team competition for a starting spot at the regionals and finished tied for fifth.

His confidence soaring, he put together four near-flawless rounds at the NCAA championships to finish tied for second at 2-under-par, one stroke behind champion Hiroshi Tai of Georgia Tech.

Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and many of the all-time greats have their names on that prestigious trophy, and the Xenia product came within a birdie or two of joining them.

“Before the day started, I was a couple shots back, and I figured somebody would go out there and grab it. I played fine on the front and then made a birdie at 11. I got a glimpse of the leaderboard and said, ‘Oh, man, I’m only two shots out of this.’” Goecke said.

He needed an eagle on the par-5 18th to force a playoff but managed only a birdie.

Still, the runner-up finish is something the former Wright State golfer will cherish forever.

“It felt great to be in contention. That’s what I was really hoping for this year — to be in the national championship and compete,” he said.

The two-time Horizon League Golfer of the Year helped his team finish first in stroke play at 6-under-par, easily qualifying for the eight-team match-play portion of the event.

Goecke lost his first match Tuesday to Bartley Forrester, 3-and-1, and top-seeded Illinois was bounced by eighth-seeded Georgia Tech, 3-1 (the Illini were ahead in the fifth match when the Yellow Jackets clinched the victory).

The NCAA went to a combination of stroke play and match play to decide its champion in 2009. But it can be fickle.

The other seven teams that advanced to the quarterfinals finished between 10-over and 25-over in stroke play.

Georgia Tech didn’t have another individual in the top 50 aside from the winner.

The top four seeds were all bounced in the quarters.

“That’s match play right there. We played great for four days. But it was 0-0 starting the day today,” said Goecke, who was tied going into No. 15 but lost three straight holes.

“I hit a couple squirrely shots on the back nine and let him back in. You get any type of momentum — you can be four or five down, but if you win one or two holes, you feel like you can make a comeback.”

The Illini have qualified for match play nine times but have no titles and just one runner-up finish to show for it.

North Carolina’s Austin Greaser, who was ranked third this year in the PGA Tour U. college ratings (Stanford’s Michael Thorbjornsen was awarded an automatic PGA Tour membership as the top-ranked player), had a tough week.

The Vandalia Butler grad finished tied for 46th in stroke play at 9-over and then lost his first match Tuesday.

The fourth-seeded Tar Heels were eliminated by Florida State.

Goecke has been engaged to Kaitlyn Miller of Fairfield since early January. And though he’s planning to pursue pro golf eventually, he has other priorities at the moment.

“I’m getting married in July,” he said. “That’s at the top of my list.”

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