BY KEVIN CASEY
June 1, 2017
SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – For Brad Dalke, this was a really long time coming.
Dalke made national headlines seven years ago when he committed to Oklahoma at 12 years old. The news was a lightning bolt for criticism: How could parents pressure a kid like this?
Local sports talk radio had a field day on the commitment.
“Wonder if his coach knows about it!”
“I’m going to declare my unborn son is going to go to Notre Dame!”
Even the compliments could be off-putting. Kay Dalke, Brad’s mother and a teacher at the time, had students going into Division I athletics. They praised her for her apparent pragmatism.
“They said, ‘Hey, that’s great strategy on your part, Mrs. Dalke. Now he can hold out for a better offer,’ ” Kay Dalke said.
That was never the plan – the early decision was Brad’s idea and he saw it as a true commitment – and the peanut gallery had its say. How’d that go?
Seven years later, that 12-year-old commit closed out a national title for the Sooners. Dalke’s 2-and-1 win over Oregon’s Sulman Raza earned Oklahoma its third point of its NCAA Championship final match against Oregon, giving the Sooners their first national title since 1989.
Take that, haters.
“We proved them wrong this week,” Dalke said.
Dalke committing to Oklahoma early wasn’t a total surprise. He’s got OU blood: Dalke’s dad, Bill, won a national championship as a linebacker on the Sooners’ 1975 squad, mom Kay was a member of the school’s first women’s golf team. And that’s just the tip of the Dalke OU family lineage.
But there’s another key component: Brad was always a big dreamer.
Dalke, 19, thought in his early youth that he would play pro baseball for 7-8 years before shifting to golf’s paid ranks.
Some of his earliest work on the links is a testament to his drive.
At age 4, Dalke competed in his first official tournament – a U.S. Kids event at Canyon Creek Country Club in Richardson, Texas.
Dalke had previously honed his game in Wichita, Texas, at River Creek Golf Course, his home layout … that had no bunkers.
The practice round at Canyon Creek was the first time he’d ever seen sand traps – so he practiced in them that day for three hours.
“He was covered with sand when we got back to the hotel,” Bill Dalke said.
By the time he was 11, Brad told his parents about the idea to commit early to Oklahoma. The pre-teen sent emails highlighting his interest to new head coach Ryan Hybl. But Dalke received no response.
The Dalkes soon got a letter from Oklahoma. The school considered Brad, just 11 years old, a prospective student-athlete, so Hybl couldn’t write him. But here’s his number, call whenever you want.
Dalke did, and Hybl would watch him in competition and was convinced.
“Some people think that was a crazy deal back then,” Hybl said. “But you could just see it (in him) as a 12-year-old.”
Hybl was never fazed by the early detractors of the decision. His take: Hey, at least people were talking about the program.
A year after his commitment, Dalke entered the AJGA’s prestigious Thunderbird International Junior and was the youngest player in the field by two years. Kay anxiously watched the pre-tournament slideshows of his accomplished competitors and told her son it would be OK to finish last.
The 13-year-old was dismayed. Mom, I could win it.
And that he did, becoming the youngest champion of that event. At some point in that victory week, Kay Dalke rang up Hybl.
“I told him, ‘I don’t think people think you’re as crazy (anymore),’ ” she said.
Dalke eventually got to Oklahoma, and finished his freshman season ranked inside the top 100. His next breakout arrived at the 2016 U.S. Amateur, where he finished runner-up. That earned him starts in this year’s Masters (missed cut) and U.S. Open (still to play).
Even so, Dalke needed all the support he could get this week to help his team to a national title. His parents were in the crowd, as was 35-year-old brother Brian, who brought the unrelenting positivity.
“Every time this week something went wrong, it never felt like the team was ever out of it,” Brian said.
Kathleen, 29, was there as a sister, but also as a bringer of fortune. She had been viewed as Brad’s good luck charm before, especially after she was on hand for the final round of April’s 3M Augusta Invitational – and saw her brother close in 66.
She was present Wednesday at Rich Harvest Farms, and two days previous, texted Brad that she had a really, really good dream the night before about the rest of the team’s week. Her Sunday night vision was of the team winning the national title.
Then there’s the family connection in spirit.
Kevin Roy, the father-in-law of Brad’s second-oldest sister Jacquelyn, was diagnosed with throat cancer earlier this year. He’s since gone through chemotherapy and radiation, but the prognosis is still unknown.
In the meantime, red wristbands emblazoned with the phrase “Team Kevo,” were administered. Kay gave one to Brad a few weeks ago, and he’s faithfully worn the wristband every day since, including Wednesday’s final.
“Already getting a full tan line from it,” Dalke said with a smile.
Feel free to smile even more, Brad. The detractors have nothing more to add.