Newton shares individual lead at Spirit Hollow

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RankNameSchoolRating
1Joey GarberGeorgia  68.65 
2Robby SheltonAlabama  68.65 
3Patrick RodgersStanford  68.71 
4Ollie SchniederjansGA Tech  68.85 
5Cameron WilsonStanford  69.10 

Men's Team Rankings »

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1Alabama 68.97 
2Georgia Tech 69.68 
3Georgia 69.68 
4Oklahoma State 69.77  10 
5California 69.86  11 

BURLINGTON, Iowa – Central Arkansas sophomore James Newton began playing golf at 6 years old. That was around the same time he picked up karate.

He earned his first black belt at the age of 10 and, in addition to picking up Thai boxing, he is now a third degree black belt.

Which one is he better at?

“Golf,” Newton said, emphatically.

He’s proving it so far at the Golfweek Conference Challenge. After opening with a 1-under 71, Newton shot a second-round 70 Monday at Spirit Hollow Golf Club.

While he went bogey-free and made one birdie in his first round, his second round included five birdies and three bogeys. He started his round birdie-bogey on Nos. 1-2 and began the back nine bogey-birdie.

“(Sunday) was just solid,” said Newton, a sophomore from Macclesfield, England. “I didn’t really do a lot wrong; hit a lot of greens, two-putted a lot from inside 20 feet.

“Today was similar for most of (the round), but I slipped a few bogeys in there and made a few more birdies, so it worked out all right.”

Newton is part of a four-way tie for first place that also includes Oklahoma’s Beau Titsworth, LSU’s Stewart Jolly and first-round leader Tyler Merkel of Ball State.

Oklahoma leads the team standings by 13 shots over first-round leader Houston. (Click here to read more about how the Sooners took the lead Monday at Spirit Hollow)

Merkel, who made six birdies and shot 3-under 69 in the opening round, made 15 pars on Monday in windy conditions. His second round also included two birdies on Nos. 1-2 and a double bogey on the par-3 15th.

“I was hitting good shots and the wind was just pushing them off line or the distance wasn’t quite right, so it was a little bit of a grind,” said Merkel, who started on tee No. 10. “But again, I made some putts that kind of kept me in it (on the back nine), went birdie-birdie on front when the wind started calming down, and that got me back to where I wanted, and I kind of coasted in from there.”

Jolly also relied on his putter to post a good second-round score. After three-putting three times en route to a first-round 72, Jolly had none Monday, making four birdies and just one bogey as part of a 3-under 69.

“It’s not a surprise at all,” Jolly said. “I’ve been playing really well for a while now. I finally got my putter working a little better. That’s been the main difference.”

The junior, who tied for medalist honors last season at the Shoal Creek Intercollegiate, had a strong summer, posting top 10s at both the Sunnehanna Amateur and the stroke-play portion of the U.S. Amateur. That came after he recorded just five top 10s in 22 events his first two years with the Tigers.

“Last two years have been pretty frustrating,” Jolly said. “I’ve been hitting it great and haven’t made hardly anything at all (on the greens), so it’s really nice to see that my hard work is paying off.”

While Jolly tied for third individually in his first event of the season last week at the Carpet Capital Collegiate, Newton is looking to better a T-35 season-opening showing at the Gopher Invitational. Newton stressed staying patient – something the martial arts have helped him with – as the key to finishing on top Tuesday.

“Just got to take it one shot at a time,” Newton said. “If you get ahead of yourself on this course, it will get you.”

But for a person with a third degree black belt, maybe it’s Spirit Hollow that should be worried.

“We don’t mess with James,” joked Pep Angles, one of Newton’s teammates.

“It’s just a good laugh,” Newton added.

All jokes aside, Newton is pretty skilled at karate. And evidence by two solid rounds in Iowa, he’s not too shabby at golf, either.

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