Ga. Tech handles calm, takes NCAA 1st-round lead
STILLWATER, Okla.—James White opened the NCAA Championship with a impressive five-under 67 Tuesday. Mind you, you wouldn't have guessed it by the way he talked after his round. The junior from Acworth, Ga., spoke cautiously about the way he tamed Karsten Creek GC (my words, not his) seemingly as if not to jinx himself.
"I just hope I didn't use up all my birdies today. We've got a long way to go," said White, who made eight on the day. "It's a tough golf course. I was sweating over every shot. I knew I was just one swing away from a double bogey at all times."
If the first round leader appeared to have that much confidence, imagine how the rest of the field must have felt.
Still, Karsten Creek was not the beast that most feared, thanks in large part to the fact the gusty conditions players experienced in the practice round ("I'd never seen anything like it," said White of the 30 mile-an-hour winds that made the course almost unbearable) blew through on Monday, leaving the course as scoreable as it might be all week. Eighteen players broke par.
White wasn't the only Yellow Jacket to take advantage of the easier conditions. Georgia Tech also counted a 71 from Paul Haley, a 72 from Kyle Scott and a 73 from J.T. Griffin to post a five-under 283 and take a three-stroke lead over UCLA.
"It was a great round on a great golf course," said Yellow Jacket coach Bruce Heppler. "Sometimes the hardest one to play is the first one because you've waited all year for it. You get overly anxious, so if you can kind of get through the first one and get some momentum, that's big."
White used solid ball striking and timely putting to take a one-stroke lead on Texas A&M's Cameron Peck and a two-stroke lead on Augusta State's Patrick Reed and J.J. Spaun. He missed just two fairways all day and hit 15 greens.
"He managed his game and was never under any stress the whole day," said Heppler, who followed him during the round. "And out here that's hard to do."
While the howling winds that greeted the golfers during the practice round Monday might have helped scared some, Heppler believed that playing in the tough conditions may well have boosted his team's confidence.
"I thought by playing yesterday, we played as hard as it was ever going to play and we played really well," Heppler said. "I think we hit one ball out of play yesterday. For them to know we could still play well if the wind comes back. So I thought playing when it was really hard is a good thing because they knew they could still hit good shots."
"You have to take advantage of [the calm conditions] because you don't know what's going to happen over the next two days," said UCLA coach Derek Freeman.
One school that didn't necessarily heed that advice was the favorite, Oklahoma State. The host Cowboys shot a four-over 292 to fall to eighth place, with their No. 4 and 5 golfers,Sean Einhaus and Talor Gooch, posting the best scores, each shooting a even-par 72. OSU had to drop a 77 from__Kevin Tway__ and counting a 73 from Peter Uihlein and 75 from Morgan Hoffmann (who is nursing a sore back).
"It wasn't, obviously, the round we wanted to play," said OSU coach Mike McGraw. "They didn't hit it in all the fairways, got in some bad spots. But it's OK. Tomorrow's a quick turnaround. If you can go out there and get a good number posted tomorrow morning, you'll be fine."
That is if Karsten Creek decides to be friendly again.
Any subpar round at Karsten Creek is impressive, but Alabama's Hunter Hamrick's 71 might have actually been the round of the day, considering the circumstances. The junior from Montgomery, Ala., hadn't felt well for the past few days, the symptoms getting so bad that he went to the hospital at 11 p.m. Monday night with a 102-degree fever. Doctors gave him an IV and some pain medication, discharging him at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday.
"I felt better on the back nine," said Hamrick. "The front nine was kind of a struggle. I drank a lot of fluids, and I think the medicine was finally kicking in."
Hamrick's round proved important for the Crimson Tide when freshman Trey Mullinax shot a 84. It helped Alabama finish with an even-par 288, five strokes back of Georgia Tech in third place.
"I wasn't sure if he could go 18 holes," said Alabama coach Jay Seawell. "For Hunter to go out there and shoot one under par, for as bad as he felt, I am very proud of him."
"I was just taking one step at a time and that helped me play well, I couldn't get ahead of myself," Hamrick said. "I couldn't think about anything but moving along and hitting the next shot."