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Title glow now shines on Raza, Yi

EUGENE — Casey Martin said the real postseason pressure for Oregon was during regional play when it needed a top-five finish in a 14-team field to qualify for the NCAA Men’s Golf Championships.

The Ducks delivered a second-place finish at the NCAA Tucson Regional, took a deep breath and then made a historic run at Eugene Country Club.

Oregon, the sixth seed, took down No. 3 LSU, No. 2 Illinois and No. 1 Texas en route to the school’s first national golf championship.

“It was real and it was significant,” Martin said of the home-course advantage after Wednesday’s dramatic 3-2 victory over the Longhorns. “It galvanizes everybody and gets you focused because it’s like, ‘We’ve got to perform.’”

The defending champions will lose individual medalist Aaron Wise, who is turning pro after a spectacular sophomore season, and senior Zach Foushee, who was 3-0 in match play. Brandon McIver, a key contributor to the team over the years, is also out of eligibility.

But two new stars were born on the national stage in junior Sulman Raza and freshman Edwin Yi.

Raza made the putt to clinch Oregon’s semifinal victory over Illinois on No. 18 and the walk-off birdie on the third playoff hole versus Taylor Funk in the final. The South Eugene graduate will be the face of the program in 2016-17.

“I’m still trying to grasp it and put my head around it,” Raza’s father, Farrukah, said as his son was being mobbed by teammates and fans on the 10th green. “He has been dreaming about this day for 12, 13 years. He prepares for this every single day, we’re talking about eight, nine hours a day. So what you saw was not just an accident, it was a preparation. ...

“It will be very easy for him to prepare for the next competition. This was an unbelievable amount of pressure you’re talking about.

“So once he goes over this hurdle, it will be easy for him to prepare the next time.”

Yi came through with dominant wins over Illinois’ Edoardo Lipparelli (5 and 4) and Texas’ Gavin Hall (4 and 3) to give the Ducks early momentum in each round.

“I walked with him every hole (Wednesday),” Oregon assistant Van Williams said. “That kid just had a confidence and a swag I’ve never seen before. It was pretty special to see him do that.”

After putting his final match away early, Yi walked with the growing gallery almost anonymously, and still carrying his own bag. A few hours later during the championship celebration, fans were asking to take selfies with him.

“Obviously, I only came to college (this) year, so it’s big,” Yi said. “I feel like this is going to help my game a lot as an experienced player now.

“I’ll be a sophomore, so it’s cool. I really appreciate this kind of event.”

Oregon will also return junior Thomas Lim, a solid Pac-12 player who went 0-2-1 during NCAA match play while feeling under the weather.

Martin’s incoming recruiting class includes another local standout, Crescent Valley High’s Kevin Geniza, who won his third state championship last month, as well as Roberto Lebrija of Mexico City and Teddy Oitzman of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.

The Ducks won’t be able to top winning individual and team national championships in front of their home fans, but the future of Martin’s program is in good shape.

“I think it can do a lot for Oregon golf,” Martin said of winning the school’s first non-track & field or cross country NCAA team title since 1939. “Obviously, you solidify yourself with the great programs because this is not easy to do.

“I mean, you can’t fake this. Certainly it gives us some credibility.”

Oregon's Sulman Raza celebrates after making the match-winning putt in his NCAA semifinal match. He later sank the putt that won the title. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS