ALPHARETTA, Ga. – There must be something about playing golf on his birthday that brings out the best in UCLA’s Erik Flores.
The Bruins senior celebrated his 22nd birthday Sunday by shooting a tournament record 7-under 65 to grab the first-round lead at the U.S. Collegiate Championship at The Golf Club of Georgia.
He holds a two-shot edge over USC’s Matthew Giles and Clemson’s David May. Washington’s Nick Taylor and Tee Huang Choo, and Clemson’s Kyle Stanley shot 69.
“I guess the best of my golf game comes out on this day,” said Flores with a big smile, referring to another 65 he shot during the opening round of the National Invitation Tournament in Tucson, Ariz., his freshman year.
It was also a good day for the Clemson Tigers, who won the inaugural USCC. Clemson shot 5-under 283 and holds a one-stroke lead over defending NCAA champion UCLA. Defending USCC champ USC is two back.
“We were solid pretty much all day,” Clemson coach Larry Penley said. “David (May) caught fire on the back. He was 1 over through eight then went 6 under the rest of the way. That was huge.
Flores, who has four top-20 finishes in seven starts this season, including a tie for second in the 36-hole stroke play portion of the Callaway Match Play Championship earlier this month, said the key to his round was his iron play.
“I had great distance control all day,” he said. “I think my longest birdie putt was about 15 feet on the 18th and I’d say my average length to the hole was about 12 feet.”
Starting on the back nine, Flores made birdies at Nos. 11, 12, 17 and 18. He surged to 6 under with an eagle on the par-5 first hole, and then got it to 8 under with birdies at Nos. 5 and 6. His lone mistake of the day came with a bogey at the par-4 eighth hole where he three-putted from 15 feet.
“It feels good to be able to take advantage of a scoreable day like today,” Flores said. “It’s a great way to get a tournament started.
“I played well last summer, and starting the season my expectations were very high. I made a few little swing changes, and working through those, my confidence wasn’t there. I haven’t played terrible, but I haven’t play great, either. But today it all seemed to come together and hopefully I can keep it up for two more days.”
That might be easier said than done, however. The weather forecast over the next two days in the Atlanta area is brutal. On Monday, the temperature is only supposed to reach the mid-40s. On Tuesday afternoon there is a possibility of snow flurries.