PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Alabama entered the NCAA Championship as the nation’s hottest team. Some advice from some major champions helped them live up to expectations and lead after the first round of the NCAA Championship.
Alabama head coach Jay Seawell received advice from Jerry Pate and Lee Janzen on how to play Riviera, the annual site of the PGA Tour’s Northern Trust Open. Janzen didn’t attend Alabama, but his agent, Tommy Limbaugh, is the uncle of Alabama assistant coach Scott Limbaugh. Seawell also recorded the television coverage of the Northern Trust Open. Janzen and Michael Thompson, a second-year PGA Tour player who finished at Alabama in 2008, sent Seawell emails with hole-by-hole dissections of the course.
“They sent us their perspective on each hole,” Seawell said. “I think it’s very good for our players. We had a little checklist for each hole.”
Alabama shot 1-over 285 Tuesday and is three shots ahead of SEC foes Auburn and Florida. The Crimson Tide received a 1-under 70 from freshman Justin Thomas, the country’s No. 2 player, and even-par 71s from Bobby Wyatt and Scott Strohmeyer. Cory Whitsett and Hunter Hamrick both shot 73.
Alabama, the nation’s No. 2 team, won the SEC Championship, then posted a 25-stroke victory at the NCAA Southeast Regional. The Crimson Tide women’s team won last week’s NCAA Championship. The men are trying to repeat the feat.
“I think it gets people a little more excited about golf,” Seawell said. “Alabama is a football school, and it should be. We have a lot of teams doing good things, … but it does turn the spotlight on a little more.”
UCLA is another stroke back. Anton Arboleda, the 18-hole leader after shooting 67, was the only player to shoot better than 74. Patrick Cantlay shot 74. No. 1 Texas is tied for sixth at 6-over 290. The Longhorns got 72s from Dylan Frittelli and Julio Vegas and 73s from Jordan Spieth, the nation’s No. 1 player, and Cody Gribble.
Arboleda is one stroke ahead of Kent State’s Corey Conners and Florida’s Tyler McCumber. Six players – Auburn’s Blayne Barber and Dominic Bozzelli, Oklahoma’s Will Kropp, Illinois’ Thomas Pieters, Stanford’s Patrick Rodgers and Iowa’s Joseph Winslow – shot 69.
Arboleda’s day started with an eagle at the par-5 first hole after hitting 6-iron to six feet. He also had six birdies and four bogeys. He made the turn in 1-over 36 but shot a bogey-free 31 on the back nine. UCLA is located less than six miles from Riviera, just down Sunset Boulevard and across the 405 freeway from the course. Arboleda said the Bruins played the course approximately a dozen times this season.
“There’s a lot of subtleties about these greens that are really tough to pick up in one day,” Arboleda said. “It’s tough to get acclimated to, especially these poa annua greens.”