Leader: Texas (6-under 274)
Individual leader: Cody Gribble, Texas (6-under 64)
The top 5: T-2. Penn State, Kent State (277); 4. East Tennessee State (278).
Close behind: T-6. Alabama, UCLA, Virginia (282); T-8. Charlotte, Vanderbilt (285); T-10. UNC-Wilmington, South Carolina (286)
Sunny side up: Following a cold, overcast Wednesday practice round at The Course at Yale, teams were greeted in Round 1 with a perfect New England spring day – sunny, calm and in the low 70s.
As for Texas freshman Cody Gribble? He walked off the 18th green early Thursday afternoon sunny, calm and in the low 60s.
Gribble shot 6-under 64 to be exact, a round filled with as many bogeys as frowns (zero), helping eighth-ranked Texas to a three-shot lead over Penn State and Kent State.
Gribble leads the individual race by one shot over East Tennessee State’s Rhys Enoch, who shot 5 under on his front nine and parred in to shoot 65. Robert Karlsson of Liberty shot 66 and sits in third, while four players, including UCLA’s Alex Kim, who showed up for Wednesday’s practice round in a winter cap, shot 67.
“It was honestly just relaxing today,” said Gribble, No. 20 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. “There wasn’t ever a chance where I was going to make a high number.”
Gribble, who verbally committed to Texas as a freshman in high school, said he has been working hard on “staying patient and more relaxed and giving myself the opportunity to make putts.”
Gribble drained birdie putts on his first two holes, of 15 and 9 feet, respectively, a couple 25-footers for birdie at Nos. 6 and 17, and a 35-footer for birdie on No. 8. He almost chipped in for eagle on No. 16, and tapped in for another birdie.
“It definitely didn’t seem like a 64 today,” Gribble, a lefty, said. “I just stayed in the moment. It’s been a while since I’ve had a bogey-less round.”
Gribble’s 64 tied the collegiate competitive course record. Current PGA Tour player Tim Petrovic shot 64 at the 1984 regional while playing for Hartford.
They’re baaaaaaaaaaack!: It had been a season of head-scratching news flashes for Penn State coach Greg Nye, so to hear his team’s name called as part of this NCAA Regional a couple weeks ago was certainly enough reason to smile, if not chuckle.
In 2004, the last time an NCAA Regional was held at Yale, Penn State finished second out of 25 teams, ahead of seven top-15 teams and a top-ranked Florida team led by Camilo Villegas. The Nittany Lions went on to place 15th at the NCAA Championship, their highest finish in program history.
“There might be some good vibes (at Yale), but this is a different team,” Nye said Thursday. Here’s some proof: Penn State finished Round 1 Thursday tied for second at 3-under 277, three shots back of leader Texas. In 2004, Penn State sat in the middle of the pack after Round 1, making its big run the following day.
Further contrast lies in these statistics, the injuries the Nittany Lions’ starting lineup has fought through this season: Two broken toes (one big, one small), a torn meniscus, a bad case of tendonitis. Not to mention that washed-out final round at the Brickyard Collegiate in October, where Penn State’s good play on the final day was erased, leaving them in 14th place. Or that early blizzard in October that pushed practice indoors. Or that other snowstorm in February that kept them from travelling to the Big 10 Match Play.
“Uncontrollable challenges,” as Nye described them.
So when spring finally came, Nye had just one message for his team: “I said guys, (if you want to make regionals) you need to either player good or great the rest of the way.”
Led by seniors Kevin Foley (who shot 67 Thursday) and T.J. Howe (69), the Nittany Lions went on to to four consecutive top-3 finishes, including a victory at their home Rutherford Collegiate and a runner-up at the Kepler Intercollegiate, earning them a trip to the postseason for the twentieth time in the last 21 years.
Same, slow, start: Anyone that arrived at The Course at Yale around 11 o’clock Thursday might have been shocked to see top-seeded UCLA at the very bottom of the leaderboard.
“Really?” said Pontus Widegren, when told of that circumstance.
“Yes,” answered coach Derek Freeman. “I wasn’t worried. That’s just typical of us this year, getting off to a bad start.
“Maybe it’s because we’re young,” Freeman said, smiling over at the freshman Widegren. “Maybe it’s not.”
After struggling early in the round, UCLA’s five closed strong, making nine birdies over the final four holes to climb back into a tie for sixth. Perhaps more important was that the worst Bruins’ scores were a pair of 72s from Gregor Main and Widegren.
“On this golf course, the more you play here, the more holes you get under the belt and the closer you stay to par, the better you’re going to be,” said Freeman. “Texas shot an outstanding round.”
And Texas played that well despite their No. 1 player, Charlie Holland, shooting a front-nine 40 on his way to a 77.
“This year we’ve had some really fine play from all our guys,” Longhorns coach John Fields said, “and when we’ve had a difficult round to accept, our guys have covered up.”
Stat of the day: After Round 1, 16 teams are within 15 shots of the lead. The same welcoming weather report is expected the next two days.
Quote of the day: “It’s about your mental health index this time of the year and our mental health index went way up.” – Kent State coach Herb Page, on the result of his team’s 22-shot victory at the MAC Championship earlier this month at Longaberger Golf Club (Nashport, Ohio). The Golden Flashes, No. 45 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, are tied for second after Round 1.