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The Loop

Another freshman makes NCAA splash

__By Ryan Herrington

MILTON, GA.—__So much for respecting your elders. For a second straight day, it was a freshman showing the upperclassmen a thing or two at the NCAA Championship.

Arkansas'Nicholas Echavarria hadn't shot lower than 70 in his first 29 rounds with the Razorbacks but a bogey-free six-under 64 on Day 2 at Capital City Club's Crabapple Course catapulted him up the leader board. His six-under 134 after 36 holes put him in a tie for second place with UCF's Greg Eason, one stroke back of 18-hole leader__Jon Rahm__ of Arizona State.

"I got off to a hot start and only missed one green," said the 18-year-old form Medellin, Colombia, who made birdies on five of his first seven holes. "I don't know what to say. It was just a solid round."

Echavarria carried a 75.5 average into the championship, having been left back in Fayetteville when Arkansas played at the SEC Championship in April. In the spring he competed in four events, but only once playing in the starting fivesome. Razorback coach Brad McMakin put him in the lineup for the NCAA postseason, however, based on his experience in high-profile events as a junior golfer. Twice he advanced to the semifinals of the U.S. Junior Amateur and he also finished third at the Junior Worlds.

"He's a gamer," McMakin said. "He was one of the top juniors in the country, and I just felt he could handle the pressure better."

Echavarria comes from a golf family. Older brother Andres played at Florida and won an SEC individual title in 2011. Another brother, Miguel, finished up his senior season at Michigan this spring.

"He's been competing with those guys since he was a kid," McMakin said. "And they've probably been beating him up on him a lot. I just believe the competitive spirit with him [is big]."

"I knew I needed to get better after missing conference," said Echavarria, who played at Crabapple during the NCAA Fall Preview, his best round being a 74 as he finished T-54 individually. "I've worked hard and things are going the right way.

"I've worked a lot on my putting," he added. "I switched putters before Regionals. And with the help of Brad … we walked all Regionals and here today. He's helped me make the right decisions."

Having opened the championship with a 61, Rahm hung on to the individual lead after Round 2 despite shooting a two-over 72 in the afternoon wave. Starting on the first hole, it looked like he was going to pick up where he left off Tuesday, birdieing three of his first four holes to get to 12 under for the tournament. Yet over his last 14 holes, he shot five over making two birdies in the stretch but also five bogeys and a double.

"It was a different day," Rahm said. "I started playing pretty well, but then my driver didn't work and I started missing fairways. I couldn't control the ball from the rough, and I started making bogeys, bogeys, bogeys. I lost a little of my confidence."

Rahm's lead is by one over Echavarria and Eason and two over a fivesome of golfers (Cal's Brandon Hagy and Max Homa, Tennessee's__Rick Lamb__, Georgia Tech's__Ollie Schniederjans__ and Alabama's Justin Thomas). (For full individual leader board, click here.)

All told, 28 golfers are within five strokes of Rahm's lead, setting up a potentially wild 18-hole sprint for the individual title on Thursday.