OOLTEWAH, Tenn. – Considering their commitment to academic excellence, NCAA officials should be pleased to find out that a large group of reporters surrounded one player Tuesday afternoon at the NCAA Championship because he was an Honors student.
Indeed, Duke junior Wes Roach estimated he has played The Honors Course about 15 times, even if he has the notes to prove only one of those rounds.
“I’m definitely comfortable out there,” said Roach, of Knoxville, Tenn., after tapping in for par on the 18th green to finish off a 3-under 69 that left him in a tie for second after the morning wave. Roach, the brightest spot for Duke on a tough day for the Blue Devils (8-over 296), narrowly missed a 30-footer for birdie on No. 18 that would have tied him with Arizona State’s Jesper Kennegard.
He said he had been waiting for this week ever since he committed to Duke (despite the fact both of his parents went to North Carolina).
“There’s no place like this,” he said.
During Monday’s practice round, Roach pulled an interesting paper out of his golf bag, one he had been holding onto since last year, hoping it would come in handy.
It was the final-round pin sheet from last summer’s Tennessee State Amateur, held at The Honors Course. Roach finished third in the event, shooting rounds of 71-70-72-70.
“I actually only saved the final-round pin sheet. I should have saved all the other ones,” said Roach, who practiced pitches and chips with his teammates to those hole locations Monday.
Turns out he found “a lot” of those hole locations in Tuesday’s opening round.
“That means it’s not going to be getting any easier,” he said. “I was pretty surprised about that.”
Roach first played The Honors Course as an eighth-grader in a high school tournament and thought then that the course “was the hardest place I’d ever seen.”
Most players the last two days, including Roach, have offered up two pieces of advice for getting through this Pete Dye layout: Don’t miss fairways and don’t lose balls.
“It’s still not easy,” Roach said. He hit a bad layup shot into the rough on the par-5 17th that led to a bogey, and missed a few midrange birdie putts on the other three par 5s Tuesday, which frustrated the long hitter.
“I’ve never seen the greens this receptive,” he said, referring to the wet weather of late in the area. “You have to take advantage of it, because if the rain goes away, it’s only going to get harder.”