Dalke's Birthday Present: A Spot in the Semifinals
August 20, 2016 | Bloomfield Township, Mich.
By David Shefter, USGA
As birthday celebrations go, this one certainly topped sleepovers and parties with his six older siblings.
Brad Dalke won’t soon forget the day he turned 19 – a round of golf at historic Oakland Hills Country Club that put the University of Oklahoma sophomore into the semifinals of the 116th U.S. Amateur Championship.
A cake in the players’ hospitality room – his mother contacted the club to surprise her son – awaited his arrival on Friday and then the Norman, Okla., resident produced one sweet moment after another on the South Course. Dalke birdied the first four holes and five of his first six in a 3-and-2 victory over recent Stanford University graduate David Boote, of Wales. He completed the victory with a 5-foot downhill birdie on the 312-yard 16th hole.
No material gift could possibly match that performance – seven birdies against one bogey under intense pressure.
Even family members, who arrived on property on Friday, were amazed at what they were seeing.
“It’s like a dream,” said his mother, Kay, a former OU golfer who flew in from New Jersey, where she served as a Rules official at an American Junior Golf Association event at Montclair Golf Club. “I can’t believe it’s really happening. This is an absolute thrill.”
His father, Bill, a former linebacker who played on Oklahoma’s national-championship teams in 1974 and 1975, booked a last-minute flight from Oklahoma City. Brad’s oldest brother, Brian, also booked a flight, while his sister Jacquelyn’s husband, Matt, and two other friends made the 15-hour drive from Oklahoma. All arrived in Michigan in time to see Brad’s opening drive.
“It’s always hard,” said Bill of the nerves watching Brad play. “What’s really hard is sitting by the laptop hitting refresh every 30 seconds. That’s tough.”
Bill was supposed to be assisting the North Norman High football team in its first scrimmage on Friday night. He spent 26 years as a high school head football coach in Oklahoma and Texas before retiring three years ago and moving the family back to Norman from the Dallas suburb of McKinney. But he recently returned to the sidelines to assist North Norman High as the team’s outside linebackers coach.
Brad inherited his dad’s football physique, but chose to succeed in a game with far less contact. Brian wrestled at the University of Central Oklahoma and Tommy, who served as his caddie during stroke play and two matches before departing Thursday for a wedding in Chicago, was a Texas 3A all-state defensive end who chose not to play in college.
Brad isn’t devoid of strength, either. An arm-wrestling video of him beating Rory McIlroy at the Sage Valley Invitational last year went viral, and he reenacted that prowess with Fox Sports’ Holly Sonders following his Round-of-64 victory over Will Zalatoris.
“My family genetics are you can look at a dumbbell and get thicker,” said Bill. “Both of my older sons love to work out.”
So where does Brad get his golf DNA?
“Depends on who you ask,” said Bill while walking toward the clubhouse in the twilight on Saturday. “[My wife] had unbelievable potential [in golf]. She had a gorgeous swing. She could have gone on and maybe done something in the game.”
Mom’s side of the family certainly has much more of a golf lineage. Kay’s father, Ken Pryor, was an outstanding basketball and baseball player for OU in the late 1940s. Pryor’s jump shot with 10 seconds left in the West Regional final against Texas in Kansas City, Mo., sent the Sooners to the 1947 national championship game against Holy Cross, a game the Crusaders won. Ken later became a scratch golfer who once lost to longtime Oklahoma State coaching legend Mike Holder in the final of the Oklahoma State Amateur.
Kay carried on the family’s love of golf, becoming the first female to earn a scholarship to Oklahoma when Title IX was introduced into law in the early 1970s. During her competitive days, Kay played in a pair of U.S. Girls’ Juniors and one season at Oklahoma years before it was a sanctioned NCAA sport. Kay later became a member of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship Committee and has served as a Rules official for more than a decade.
Brad was first introduced to golf at 11 months and by age 12 he was verbally committed to Oklahoma, a story that made national news. OU’s clairvoyance in this blossoming talent was illustrated with Brad being named a first-team AJGA All-American five times. Although he never made a serious run in any of his four U.S. Junior Amateur appearances, he did win the prestigious AJGA Thunderbird Invitational in Scottsdale, Ariz., at 13.
As a freshman last season, Dalke produced two top-10 finishes, and although he made the cut in three major amateur events this summer, there wasn’t a top-10 showing at the Sunnehanna Amateur, Northeast Amateur or Western Amateur (failed to advance to the sweet 16 of match play).
But something clicked this week. He produced a walk-off birdie to beat Zalatoris in the Round of 64 and survived a 19-hole decision over Bryan Baumgarten in the Round of 16 on Thursday afternoon. His long, accurate drives definitely have played a role in his success.
Having his brother, Tommy, keeping him calm during stroke play and the first two rounds of match play certainly has helped as well, a role his OU teammate, Grant Hirschman, has continued for the Round of 16 and quarterfinals.
“He’s like a brother to me now,” said Dalke of the OU junior. “He’s just always positive.”
Dalke’s week at Oakland Hills began with just Tommy and his competing OU teammates Hirschman and Aaron Terrazas. That entourage grew on Friday with the arrival of Dalke’s parents and oldest brother. Tommy and his wife are expected back for Saturday’s match, while more supporters could arrive on-site Saturday, or possibly Sunday, should he defeat University of Southern California sophomore Jonah Texeira in Saturday’s semifinals.
Figuring out flight itineraries is a nice problem to have.
“My oldest daughter’s birthday is [on Saturday] and I think she is hopping on a Southwest flight [on Friday],” said Bill, who has three boys and four girls, plus 12 grandchildren. “She’s a registered nurse in Duncan, Oklahoma. We were talking on the phone and had to make a decision before [the quarterfinal] match was over. Another daughter just graduated from nurse practitioner school and she’s committed to that.”
Fortunately, Brad doesn’t have worry about playing travel agent. His lone focus: beating his next opponent. Two more victories and he can join his father as a national champion, and some of the game’s greats who have their names inscribed on the Havemeyer Trophy. And then there are all the spoils that come with the title: 2016 U.S. Open and Open Championship exemptions and a likely invitation to the 2016 Masters.
Those are birthday presents that can’t be purchased.
“Yeah, it was a fun day,” said Dalke. “It didn’t really feel like my birthday. It didn’t really seem very ordinary, I guess. Hopefully, we can go somewhere nice to eat dinner tonight.”
When pressed on where that might be, Dalke replied, “I don’t know, but hopefully somewhere expensive.”
Bill Dalke’s credit card might take one more hit, but for Brad Dalke the week has already been priceless.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.