DENVER (May 17, 2016) – The old golf adage is that one cannot win a tournament on the first day, but he can lose it. By that standard, Tuesday was successful for the Oklahoma Christian Eagles and University of Central Oklahoma Bronchos in the opening round of the NCAA Division II Championship.
Competing in difficult playing conditions – temperatures in the high 30s/low 40s and consistent drizzle – OC posted a respectable team score of 290 – 2-over-par – at Green Valley Ranch Golf Club. The Eagles were seventh in the 20-team field and just two shots behind UCO in fifth place.
Eric Kline and Cody Troutman both shot 1-under-par 71s to lead Central Oklahoma to a fifth-place showing. The Bronchos had a 1-over-par 289 total at the 7,327-yard, par-72 Green Valley Ranch Golf Course, good for a fifth-place tie with Wilmington in the 20-team tourney. St. Leo leads at 278, followed by Chico State (282), Florida Southern (282) and Barry (288). Southeastern Oklahoma State is tied for 14th at 298.
Second-round play begins at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday and the 54-hole portion of the tournament concludes Thursday. The top eight teams advance to match play, with quarterfinals and semifinals Friday before the finals Saturday.
Kline and Troutman led the way, with UCO also getting a 73 from Eli Armstrong, a 74 from Russ Purser and a 77 from Logan Gray.
Kline had a pair of front-nine birdies in making the turn at one-under 35 and was three-under through 17 holes before finishing with a double bogey to finish with a back-nine 36 and the 71 that has him tied for 17th in the medalist race.
Troutman overcame a first-hole double bogey with three birdies in a front-nine 35 and was three-under through No. 15 before making consecutive bogeys in a back-nine 36 for his 71.
Armstrong had a steady day with a 37-36, Purser followed a front-nine 36 with a 38 and Gray played his last 17 holes one-over after starting with an eight on the par-4 first hole.
Although his team trailed the leader, St. Leo (Fla.), by 12 shots, OC coach David Lynn was happy that his team was among the top eight and able to make a run at match play.
"We just wanted to put ourselves in a position today to not do anything crazy and just kind of go out there and be conservative," Lynn said. "The weather made that much more difficult, but I’m proud of our round."
The individual champion will be determined after the three stroke-play rounds, and OC freshman Alejandro Valenzuela inserted himself into that conversation with a 3-under 69 on the 7,327-yard course that put him tied for fifth in the 108-man field. The Heartland Conference’s freshman of the year trailed the leader, Hugo Bernard of St. Leo, by three shots.
When freshman Ethan Smith teed off at No. 10 at 7:30 a.m. Mountain time – making him the first OC athlete ever to compete in a NCAA national championship event – the temperature was 39 degrees. Players from all teams wore stocking caps and waterproof jackets and carried umbrellas, trying to fend off the elements. It wasn’t ideal for successful golf, but Lynn said he was glad his players persevered.
"We knew going out, the first six to nine holes was going to be pretty brutal with the rain," Lynn said. "It was forecast to stop raining about the time we made the turn, and that’s kind of what happened. We were 5-, 6-, 7-over early in our round and so to finish 2-over I think is fantastic."
Valenzuela, from Cochabamba, Bolivia, was 1-over after his first nine holes, but he sizzled on the next nine (the front nine at Green Valley Ranch), starting a run of three straight birdies at the par-5 No. 2.
A fourth birdie came at the 463-yard par-4 No. 6. His tee shot landed in a divot on No. 7, leading to a bogey, but he bounced back with a birdie on the par-3 No. 8 to move to 3-under.
"Alejandro comes from a country (near the Equator) where they don’t play a lot of cold golf," Lynn said. "He is not a cold-weather veteran. That was a fantastic round. Even if he was a veteran, that would be fantastic. It just goes to show you what kind of character that kid has. The roll that he’s been on basically all postseason, in conference and in regionals and now nationals, he’s got a lot of confidence going. He’s really helping our team right now."
Smith, from Edmond, also had five birdies, but ended up at 3-over 75 after a roller-coaster round that also included six bogeys and a double bogey. He shot a 40 over his first nine holes, but posted four of his birdies over his final nine, including one on the Eagles’ closing hole, the 615-yard par-5 No. 9. Smith was tied for 59th individually. Lynn called Smith’s second nine "pretty incredible."
"I know he had a double and a bogey in there as well, but for him to shoot 40 (on) the front and to come back in 35, that was huge," Lynn said.
OC sophomore Zac Schaefer was tied for 27th after a 72. Schaefer was 2-under after nine holes and briefly held a share of the overall lead. Three bogeys in a five-hole stretch – on No. 3, No. 5 and No. 7 – put him over par, but he salvaged even par for the round with a birdie at No. 8.
Senior Sam Johnston, the West-South Central Super Regional champion, was battling a cold but came through with a 2-over 74 and was tied for 52nd. Freshman Juan Pallach shot an 80 and was tied for 96th.
The Eagles will have a later tee time on Wednesday, starting at 12:05 p.m. Mountain time (1:05 p.m. Central time), which Lynn figures will help give his squad some much-needed extra rest before beginning the round. The weather forecast looks much better, too, with highs projected to be in the low-to-mid 60s.