Sugar Grove (Ill.) Regional: UAB leads
Team leader: Alabama-Birmingham (4-over 292)
Individual leader: Brian Campbell, Illinois (3-under 69)
In position: 2. Illinois (293); T-3. Clemson, Kent State (299); T-5. Jacksonville State, Southern California (302); 7. California (305)
Chasing: 8. UNLV (308), 9. Purdue (309)
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Real winner on day one
The NCAA went to a six-regional format during the 2009 postseason. The best thing about that change is it reduced the field size at each site and allowed all teams to play in the same wave and experience similar weather conditions. That was particularly important on a day like Thursday at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill. When teams teed off, temperatures were in the low 40s with rain and wind.
“It was very, very difficult here today,” Kent State coach Herb Page said. “It was raining with gusting winds and that adds a lot of elements. A golf course like this adds your head, adds your heart, adds your patience. It’s not all about striking shots and making putts – truly a great test of golf and tests every part of your game here.”
Alabama-Birmingham and Illinois might be at the top of the leaderboard, but the real winner at the Sugar Grove regional had to be the golf course. The par-72, 7,151-yard layout played much longer than the yardage indicated. With a scoring average of 78.07, it was the only site that did not allow a team to finish under par. Only three players finished in the red.
“This place has a history of being a difficult golf course and the weather made it more difficult,” Illinois coach Mike Small said. “Not much you can do about it. You just embrace it and deal with it.
Alabama-Birmingham, No. 16 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, finished the day at the top of the leaderboard and holds a one-shot lead over Small’s eighth-ranked Illinois squad.
California, the top seed in this regional, is the lone top seed that is not leading its respective regional after Round 1. The Golden Bears, who sit alone in seventh place, trail Alabama-Birmingham by 13 shots but they’re only three shots out of fifth.
It’s not about score this week and it’s not about winning. Small may have said it best: “No matter what score you shoot, as long as you come out on top, that’s a good score.”
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Looking for a Cinderella
Jacksonville State, winner of the Ohio Valley Conference, had won its previous two starts entering postseason play. The team is off to a good start at regionals, tied for fifth with Southern California. There are a couple of things worth noting about Jacksonville State’s round, however.
The first is that the Gamecocks’ best player, Tomasz Anderson, did not post a counting score. Anderson, a junior from Hertfordshire, England, posted a 9-over 81 that included three double bogeys. It was his worst round since his freshman year.
“I think that is the first time in two years we have not counted his score,” Jacksonville State coach James Hobbs said. “We hope he comes back tomorrow and has good rounds Friday and Saturday.”
The second thing worth noting is that Hobbs’ lineup includes three freshman. And one of those freshman, Pablo Torres, led the Gamecocks with a 2-under 70. Torres is tied for second and only trails leader Brian Campbell of Illinois by one shot.
The Gamecocks are trying to advance to the finals for the first time in program history. Jacksonville State came close in 2004 when it missed by five shots in the East regional.
Jacksonville State hopes to stay close over the next 36 holes. As Hobbs said, “This is a golf course you can’t make up a lot of ground on.”
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Golden in the postseason
It should be no surprise to see Kent State play well this time of year. The Golden Flashes have advanced out of regional play and to the national championship five of the past six years. After 18 holes, Kent State is tied with Clemson for third place at 11-over 299.
Being comfortable on this golf course is not easy, considering it was the toughest site in terms of scoring average on Day 1 of regional play. However, the Golden Flashes may feel a bit more at ease than the other 13 teams competing for a top-five spot to advance to Prairie Dunes for the national championship.
“It’s a favorite spot for me,” Page said. “We have won here a couple of times in my career.”
Most recently, Kent State won the 2012 Mid-American Conference Championship here. Kent State’s three seniors – Corey Connors, Taylor Pendrith and Kyle Kmiecik – were all part of that championship team.
Look for Kent State to stay in the mix over the next two days, if not challenge for the win.
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Alabama-Birmingham, which leads after round 1, has its top four players all inside the top 11. Head coach Alan Murray is pleased but realizes it’s just the first day: “It’s only day one and we still have 36 to go, so we can’t get too excited yet. We have five really good players and when you have that you have a chance.” … California senior Brandon Hagy, the top-ranked player in the field at No. 7, led California with a 1-over 73. … Conditions during day one did improve, but look for similar rainy conditions for the second round with temperatures barely reaching the 50 degree mark. The forecast shows Saturday, the final day, to be the best with sunny skies and low 60s.