__WILLIAMSBURG, VA.—__What a difference nine months makes. When they started the 2006-07 men’s season last September, the players on the Stanford men’s team under third-year coach Conrad Ray had a fairly simple goal: Win a tournament.
With a five-under 275 at Golden Horseshoe GC’s Gold course Wednesday, Stanford is one step closer to accomplishing that goal, as the team sits atop the leader board, two strokes ahead of Coastal Carolina and three up on Florida, after the first day of the 110th NCAA Championship.
“We had a horse out there today,” Ray said afterward, referring to Rob Grube. The junior from outside of Chicago (above) shot a bogey-free six-under 64 to take the individual lead by two strokes over Florida freshman Tim McKenney. “When you can post a low number like that, it makes a big difference."
Conditions were ideal for low rounds (no wind, temperatures in the 80s), with 28 players out of 156 breaking par. Still, the 6,803-yard, par-70 Robert Trent Jones Sr. layout held its own. Thick rough made hitting fairways a premium.
Grube sacrificed length for accuracy, hitting three 3-woods, three 5-woods and a 4-iron off various tees. Five of his six birdies came on the front side, as he turned in 30.
A visit with his instructor, Jim McLean, May 24 in Palm Springs, Calif., allowed Grube to fine-tune his mechanics as well as helped in his decision to take out a 3-iron from his back and put in an extra wedge for tricky shots around the greens.
After claiming six victories in the first 11 starts, Stanford had struggle of late, finishing a disappointing fourth at the Pac-10 Championship and seventh at the West Regional, its two worst performances of the year. In Ray’s mind, however, the so-so showings might have been blessings in disguise.
“With such a hot start [this season] we were going to hit a bump in the road,” Ray said. “I think it might have helped us to know we still need to get after it. I think these guys are hungry to play well.”
Several other schools expected to contend this week remain in the hunt after Day 1. Top-ranked Georgia, led by Chris Kirk’s 68, finished at two-over 282 to grab eighth place. UCLA might like to replay the par-3 12th hole, after shooting six over as a team on it, but otherwise was OK with its three-over 283 and share of ninth. Alabama and Tulsa shot four-over 284s, while defending champion Oklahoma State, with Pablo Martin posting a 70, finished at seven-over 287.
Individually, McKenney’s success came from a hot flat stick, as he needed just 25 putts for his 66, a career best. “Everything I looked at poured in,” he said.
Behind Grube and McKenney was a foursome of players at three-under 67, Coastal Carolina’s Dustin Johnson, Minnesota’s Bronson La’Cassie, Florida State’s Matt Savage and Georgia Tech’s Cameron Tringale.
*For full team scores, click here.
For full individual scores, click here.*
He hit only four fairways and struggled to a five-over 75, leaving him tied for 126th, but Penn’s Chance Pipitone was one of the most sought out players among the media covering nationals. The freshman from Houston is the first Quaker to play in the NCAA Championship since 1964 is believed to be the first Ivy League golfer to compete in the event since the 1980s.
Pipitone qualified as an individual when he shot a 14-under 202 at the West Regional two weeks ago. “I don’t think many people thought an Ivy Leaguer would do well,” said Pipitone, ranked outside the top 900 players in the country before advancing to nationals. “I love proving them wrong.”
“He’s a testimony to the fact that Ivy League golf is alive and well,” noted Penn coach Rob Powelson. “I think my other seven coaches and players are rooting Chance on. It really means a lot to our program. All our guys are non-scholarship. It’s a milestone accomplishment.”
Piptone noted that there were some ups and downs on the course during his first year in college. He started the season still recovering from a broken ankle that sidelined him all last summer. During the year he posted a 74.9 average, with one round in the 90s and four in the 60s.
“I hope this shows recruits,” Pipitone said. “You can get both school and golf.”
Meanwhile, he will get a larger rooting section in the coming days; the rest of the Penn golf team is coming in to cheer their teammate on at the end of the week.