Bob Stoops can’t win a big bowl game, Jeff Capel’s still building a program, Patty Gasso’s charges can’t get back to the World Series, Sooner wrestling must first catch up to its conference and Sherri Coale’s squad lost to Louisville.

But if the Sooner Nation is looking for a hero, Phillip Bryan tees off at 7:15 this morning in the quarterfinals of the United States Amateur Public Links.

Presented and run by the United States Golf Association, it is, by definition, a national championship. Bryan’s three matches away from winning it (and getting an invitation to the Masters).

Originally from Mustang, Bryan came to Norman to play golf at Oklahoma and has stayed to coach golf at Oklahoma. Low and behold, all it took for him to whip his game into shape was to finally see it from a coach’s point of view.

That and a whole lot of practice.

If Nick Taylor, who’s played the role of Tiger Woods at the Buick Open through four days at the Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club, is the national story, Bryan is the one who ought to have the biggest gallery on the course today, if not by the ungodly early hour he tees it up, then at least by 9:30 this morning when he makes the turn.

Thursday his gallery included friends and family, among them the mother of Sooner quarterback Sam Bradford and the great Joe Washington. But today’s should include strangers, plucked from the tens of thousands of Sooner fans who live and die for football, yet perk up when something else comes across the radar.

Bryan’s coming across like a comet.

He only qualified for the Publinks after knocking off Purcell’s Nathan Chambers, a new Sooner he’ll be coaching come the fall, in a Lincoln Park playoff in northeast Oklahoma City. And he only reached the match play field of 64 after gaining control of a Tuesday round that began with a 40 on the course’s back nine.

But he’s been golden since match play began Wednesday, when he dispatched Braxton Marquez 2 and 1. Thursday, he took care of Gene Webster Jr., the No. 5 seed, 3 and 2, and Cameron Peck, an 18-year-old with crazy talent headed to College Station from Olympia, Wash., 2 up.

You have to love it because he’s playing his home course in his adopted hometown and you have to love it because of the who-is-this-guy quality to what he’s already accomplished.

“I’m a lot better now than I was in college,” said Bryan, who completed his eligibility in the spring of 2008. “And I think that’s because, as a coach, I see the mistakes now.”

It’s occurred to him he’s taking the advice he tries imparting upon his players, just as it’s occurred to him that he used to be too hardheaded to take it from his coaches.

“He’s more mature,” brother and caddie Josh Bryan said. “He sees the mistakes these kids make that kill them.”

Thursday afternoon, Phillip Bryan, and everybody else, might have witnessed the best shot of their lives when Peck, from deep in the right rough on the 505-yard par 4 eighth, hit a 35-yard hook from 230 yards around trees that rolled right past the stick and then back down to it, so close the putt was conceded.

It gave Peck his first lead of the match and a third straight birdie, but what did Bryan do just as the match’s turning point appeared to have taken place? He kept hitting fairways and greens, eventually suffocating Peck with his consistency.

A par on the 281-yard par 3 15th put the match back square. A 150-yard approach to within two feet on No. 16 put Bryan back on top. Then, when he had to be great, he pulled that off, too.

Playing from the middle of the fairway, but with a ball that came up muddy, Bryan’s approach on the 480-yard par 4 17th was well right of the right bunker and in the pine straw, the hole on the green’s left edge.

Bryan played the shot like he was in sand, blasting the ball halfway across the green, whereupon it rolled within two feet of the cup. Peck gave Bryan the putt before missing a 12-footer for par.

In the space of three holes, Bryan went from 1 down to 2 up and it was over.

Playing the best golf of his life, Bryan said he remains a coach first. Not that it gets in the way of enjoying the moment.

“I didn’t play that well in college,” he said. “This is a lot of fun.”

There’s a Sooner gunning for a national championship.

Tell everybody.

Clay Horning


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