By Ken MacLeod
In the tens of thousands of rounds shot by touring pros and top amateurs in the 44-year history of Oak Tree National, Austin Eckroat’s 10-under 61 Friday stands as the best of all time.
The Edmond native and Oklahoma State senior eclipsed the previous course record set from the current back tees of 7,410 by three shots. Bob Tway and Scott Verplank had both shot rounds of 7-under 64. Willie Wood shot 62 in the 1990s from back tees then set at about 6,900 yards. The best competitive round was a 64 shot by Dave Rummels in the second round of the 1988 PGA Championship.
Playing with former OSU teammates Matthew Wolff and Nick Heinen and current University of Oklahoma star Quade Cummins, Eckroat birdied the first six holes in succession, evoking hopes a 59 could be in the offing.
“I started to get nervous on the sixth hole and was definitely thinking a 59 was possible,” said Eckroat, whose previous best score at National was 65. “It’s so hard to go low there – the greens are so difficult to read – and I thought if I can get through the front nine at 28 or 29 I would have a real chance.”
Eckroat missed birdie putts of 12 feet on the seventh hole and 10 feet on the eighth before closing with a birdie on the ninth to make the turn in 29. But he hit his drive right on the par-4 10th, leading to his lone bogey.
He bounced back with consecutive birdies on holes 11, 12 and 13 and with the short par-5 16th still ahead, again the 59 was a possibility. But he made par on the next four holes, including 16 where he had just 190 yards for his second shot but chunked it short of the green. He had to scramble for par on the par-3 17th, then made a long birdie in front of a cheering crowd that had gathered on the 18th to reach 10-under.
Eckroat was dialed in from the outset. His birdie putts on the first six holes came from distances of 8 feet, 7 feet, 6 inches, 5 feet, 10 feet and 6 feet.
“I really had a good chance to birdie all nine on the front side,” he said. “I’ll remember that round forever. It was really fun. The best part is I beat Matt by eight. He kicked my butt pretty regularly the two years he was at OSU.”
OSU coach Alan Bratton said the round shows what Eckroat is capable of and bodes well for this summer. If Eckroat is a first team All-America at OSU next year, he would be the first Cowboy to advance in succession from Honorable Mention All-America to Third Team, Second Team and then First Team in his four years.
“Awesome round!,” Bratton said. “To be the course record holder at Oak Tree is a nice accomplishment. He had lots of history to surpass. Really good players have rolled around there many, many times over the years and still do every day. It shows Austin is in good form heading into summer tournaments and I’m excited to see what he can do.”
After losing what would have been his junior season at OSU this spring to the COVID-19 shutdown, Eckroat made the decision to come back to OSU next fall, shelving plans to turn professional this summer. His summer schedule will include several prestigious amateur events including the U.S. Amateur and he hopes to be one of the amateurs selected to play in the U.S. Open though the selection process is still to be determined. His current World Golf Amateur Ranking is 19 and he may have to move that up to the top 15 to secure an invite.
Eckroat has been runnerup the past two years in the Oklahoma State Amateur Championship and hopes to be able to play this year. He will compete June 15 at Southern Hills in the new Oklahoma Junior Masters event being hosted by the club.
Oak Tree National has long been the home of the Oak Tree Gang including Tway, Verplank, Wood, Gil Morgan, Doug Tewell, David Edwards, Danny Edwards and other pros. A new group of talented young professionals now play there regularly, including Wolff and Viktor Hovland. The Pete Dye design has always had a reputation as one of the nation’s most difficult courses, making Eckroat’s 61 all the more remarkable.
“61 is a good score anywhere. . . especially at one of America’s most challenging courses,” said Oak Tree President and COO Tom Jones.