STILLWATER, Okla.—Attention Arkansas women's assistant coach__Mike Adams. You're going to need to get yourself a new putter. The one that Razorback sophomore__Austin Cook "borrowed" from you a few weeks ago in hopes of helping his sagging short game isn't going to be returned any time soon.
Not after Cook's two-under 70 during the first round of the NCAA Championship. It was the low score by any individual posted during the morning wave at Karsten Creek GC, when just five sub-par rounds posted through the mid-way point of the opening round.
Cook was struggling with a traditional length putter after a T-35 showing at the SEC Championship, his second straight finish outside the top 30, and saw Adams' Rife belly putter in the Razorbacks office. Figuring it couldn't hurt, he brought it out to the course put it in play while finishing T-14 at the Southeast Regional in Florida.
On Tuesday at Karsten Creek he then proceeded to use it to make four birdies, including holing putts on the 17th and 18th to take the early individual lead.
"The putter has given me a lot more confidence," said Cook, a Jonesboro, Ark., native. "I never used a belly putter before, but this is staying in my bag for a while."
Aside from his putting, Cook says his ball striking has also come around in recent weeks after working with Arkansas assistant Barrett Lais. "If you were hitting it well and putting well, you could go low today," Cook said, noting the more favorable scoring conditions created by the lack of wind Tuesday morning.
One back of Cook mid-way through the first round were California's Michael Weaver, Ohio State's__Bo Hoag__, Oklahoma's__Ryan Sirman__ and San Diego's Manav Shah, each shooting one-under 71s.
"We were pretty fortunate in the early tee times," said Weaver after his round. "What wind we did have was coming from the north rather than the south yesterday. It made the course play very different. There were holes that from the practice rounds that were 60 yards difference [in length of his approach shots]."
Sirman, who started on the 10th tree, was at five under par through 13 holes before hitting a poor drive on the par-4 fifth hole. Forced to re-tee, he eventually made a triple-bogey 7, followed by a bogey on the eighth hole.
"I just hit a bad shot and made a big number," Sirman said. "But that's going to happen to a lot of people at some point out here. This course is one you have to respect. And when you get in trouble, you have to do all you can to minimize the damage. But I feel good going forward. You just have to realize you have to put it in the fairway to score."