SUNRIVER, Ore. – The sun was barely visible over the jagged tops of the Cascades on Monday evening as Michael Lee stood next to the Crosswater scoreboard with his Colorado School of Mines team. On a calm fall day in the Northwest, Lee took advantage of a flat golf course and went 11 under (68, 65) in 36 holes.
“I really just made a lot of putts,” said Lee, a junior holdover from the Oredigger team that made its maiden national-championship appearance last spring. Lee, now in a leadership position after the graduation of Mines’ top two players from last season, contributed mightily on Monday, leading his team to a share of fourth at the Golfweek Division II Fall Invitational.
Lee holds a four-shot individual lead after the opening two rounds, and attributes it to a putter switch he made just four days before the tournament. Lee now uses a Ping Nome, which gave him “new mojo.”
Lee managed to keep the ball in play at Crosswater and keep the big numbers off his card. He had 12 birdies and an eagle, and only three bogeys – one of which came on his final hole of the day, the par-4 15th. He plugged his drive in a fairway bunker and struggled to get out.
“I kept it in play, which is just what you have to do out here, and then the greens are so pure that I was able to roll in some putts,” Lee said.
Crosswater is a straight-forward layout that should look familiar to Lee and his fellow Orediggers, who come from Golden, Colo. Said Mines head coach Tyler Kimble on the eve of the championship, “The grass is the same, the altitude is within 1,000 feet. I’d like to say it’s an advantage, but (the field is) pretty deep here.”
California State Stanislaus, with only two returners from the team that lost in the second round of match play at the NCAA Championship in the spring, remained firmly atop the team leaderboard through 36 holes. The Warriors took that lead on the shoulders of redshirt senior Rob Damschen, who started the day with a 6-under 66. Damschen faltered at the beginning of his second round, but made three birdies in his final nine holes to return a 71. He is solo second on the individual leaderboard at 7-under 137.
“Rob played real solid out there,” Stanislaus head coach John Cook said. “He had a couple bumps in the afternoon round but battled back, made a few birdies.”
Teammate Paul Smith, a sophomore and fellow returner, closed his day with 18 consecutive pars. Back-to-back rounds of 72 left him T-9 at the end of the second round.
At 2-over 578 for the tournament, the Warriors are three shots ahead of Hawaii-Hilo with one round to play. Cook knows that lead could quickly evaporate. Chico State, at 6-over 582, remains in contention and so do the three schools tied for fourth another two shots back (Colorado School of Mines, Western Washington and Grand Canyon).
“One shot at a time and just stick to our game plan,” Cook said of his outlook for Round 3. “Our practice round, we kind of decided how we wanted to play the golf course. Just stick to that and hopefully it will work.”
Despite being a long way from home, Hawaii-Hilo has adjusted to a Northwest venue. The Vulcans played the Western Washington Invitational last week, finishing third before spending the middle of the week at The Home Course in DuPont, Wash., the assisting course for the 2010 U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay in nearby University Place, Wash. The team then drove eight hours to Sunriver. That was an adjustment, too.
“We’re not used to driving eight hours,” head coach Earl Tamiya said with a chuckle. “Two hours is too long for us in Hawaii.”
Tamiya called his team’s play at Crosswater aggressive, in a strategic way. It’s what allowed Hawaii-Hilo to climb the leaderboard at the end of the day and remain in contention entering the final round.
“The course was in superb shape, and the greens rolled well,” Tamiya said.
Players across the board took advantage.