“I had played really well the whole day, kept my emotions under control and thought I was going to cruise in the last couple holes to victory,” Goff said by phone Thursday evening after returning to Lexington, Ky.
Those would turn out to be a very long couple of holes.
Goff double-bogeyed the 17th. That was just the prelude to what the redshirt sophomore described as “a debacle.”
On the 18th, all five of Kentucky’s golfers, who were playing in one group, hit into the same sand trap. All used the same brand of ball marked with the Kentucky logo, marking each with a pen to differentiate them.
“I briefly glanced at the ball and thought it was mine, so I didn’t think twice about it. I hit it and I started walking down the fairway and, 30 seconds later, our assistant coach is like, ‘Alex, come back here,’ and that’s when my heart just dropped,” Goff said.
He had hit the wrong ball, incurring a penalty.
“I had hit a good shot and I was just going to walk up the last hole and soak it in. It was going to be a stress-free last few minutes and instead it was the exact opposite of that.”
Goff would triple-bogey, finishing the day with a 4-over-par 76. Meanwhile, Hunter Walcott of Tennessee, playing in the group behind Goff, birdied the 17th hole. At that point, Goff believed they were tied for the lead, with Wolcott holding the tiebreaker in the scoring format.
Goff recalled thinking, “I do not want to let [Brown] down over something so stupid like that” while waiting for Wolcott to finish. “I was so frustrated with myself. My parents were there and my teammates; it was the biggest stage I’d ever been on and to potentially have a mistake like that cost me the win, I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.”
Adding to the drama, those scores would become a source of confusion because of an error by a tournament judge that affected scores posted online and in coverage televised by the Golf Channel.
“It was crazy how many different scenarios and stories there were,” Goff said. “I didn’t know what was true and what wasn’t. … Meanwhile, I’m over here kicking myself in the butt because I had just made a stupid mistake that could cost me something I could remember the rest of my life.”
Wolcott set himself up with a short putt for par to close his round. It lipped out.
Goff had won, by a margin that was corrected to two strokes.
Not that he was looking at that point. “My dad was watching and I was like, ‘I can’t even watch it,'” he said. “When [Wolcott] missed the putt, he yelled, ‘He missed it! He missed it!’ I gave him the biggest hug. It was definitely surreal.”
Cullan Brown was about to begin his sophomore season at Kentucky in September 2019 when osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, was found in his left thigh. In his one season at Kentucky, he had posted four top-20s and a 72.42 scoring average. He earned a sponsor exemption into the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship in the summer of 2019 and tied for 53rd.
Brown left school shortly after receiving the diagnosis and returned home to begin chemotherapy. He died Aug. 4.
After Brown’s death, “we talked about it and were trying to think of ways to honor him,” Goff said of the team’s decision to carry Brown’s bag. “It wasn’t going to do any good just sitting around. He would want us to honor his name instead of having his bag just sitting in a trophy case. ”
Brown’s initials, “JCB,” were added to several of his teammates’ items for the tournament. Wildcat golfers wore yellow ribbons on their caps in his honor. And Coach Brian Craig told his golfers that the honor of carrying Brown’s bag would go to the one who did best in a practice round.
“That was incentive to play well and fortunately enough that was me and the rest is history,” Goff said. “It’s just crazy that, the first time I ever carry his golf bag after all this happens, I get my first college win. It just doesn’t seem real.”
Cheering from afar, as he knew, was Brown’s family.
“I can’t imagine how hard it was for them to watch it, just because Cullan was such a great golfer and they were involved in the sport for so long. His sister [Cathryn] is a big-time [high school] golfer,” he said. “As hard as it was for them to watch, I hope I made them happy and proud that I could carry his golf bag and win and represent him the way that he would want to be represented.”
Brown’s mother, Emily, tweeted her excitement from the family’s home as she watched on TV.
“So difficult to believe and understand how my boy isn’t playing in this tournament,” she tweeted. “But know that Cullan is watching over his brothers.”
After Goff’s tearful victory, she added, “We were crying with you, Alex. Sure do miss my boy!”