ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Oklahoma State junior Talor Gooch was not in the starting lineup the first two tournaments of the season. Coach Mike McGraw benched his No. 1 player for “breaking a team rule,” without giving any specifics.
So, when the Cowboys kicked off tournament No. 3 Friday in the U.S. Collegiate Championship at the Golf Club of Georgia, Gooch was making his first start this fall.
And he was determined to make the most of it – which he certainly did.
After an eagle on the par-5 opening hole and a birdie at the par-4 second, Gooch went on to shoot a 4-under 68 and grab the lead after the first 18 holes.
That gave him a one-stroke edge over Iowa junior Steven Ihm and Auburn sophomore Michael Johnson. Another shot back at 2-under 70 were Patrick Rodgers of Stanford, Anton Arboleda of UCLA and Ollie Schniederjans of Georgia Tech.
“This being my first tournament of the fall, I was really excited coming in here,” said Gooch, winner of this year’s Oklahoma Stroke Play Championship. “I got off to a great start, kept it steady in the middle and then made birdie at 18 to cap it off.
“After the start I had, I really had to contain my excitement,” Gooch said. “I think I did a good job of that and did not get too far ahead of myself.”
On the team side, USC, winners of this championship in 2008, grabbed the 18-hole lead with a 1-over 289, led by 71s from Sam Smith and Yi Keun Chang, a 73 from Jeffrey Kang, and a 74 from Anthony Paolucci.
The Trojans are two shots better than host Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. Oklahoma State holds down the No. 4 spot at 5-over 293, while Virginia follows at 295. Sharing sixth place in the 15-team field at 297 are defending champion UCLA, Washington, Auburn and Kent State.
“We caught a little break as the wind died down for us the last hour or so, and that was huge,” USC coach Chris Zambri said. “The guys did well and I’m excited for them, especially Sam Smith. He was 3 over early on and came back to shoot 1 under. A great day for him.”
It was only the second tournament of the fall for USC, which finished third at the Pac-12 Preview event in Oregon.
“I won’t say I’m overly surprised (about the lead), but maybe just a little,” Zambri said with a smile. “This is a good group, and I’m excited about this season.”
Georgia Tech was among the teams to have battled some tough wind conditions throughout the round.
“The greens are firm and fast, and when the wind started blowing it became very difficult out there,” Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler said. “This is a great test of golf, and you really have to play smart and be patient. Overall, I think we did well. We hung in there on the first day, and that’s what you want.”
Gooch, who tied for fourth at this year’s Southern Amateur, tied for second in the stroke-play portion of the U.S. Amateur Public Links and advanced to the Round of 32 at the U.S. Amateur, sank a 10-foot putt for his opening eagle and made a 30-footer for birdie at No. 2. He added birdies at Nos. 10 and 16 and closed with an 18-foot putt at the final hole. His bogeys came at Nos. 4 and 7, where he had his only three-putt.
“Overall I had good control of my ball today and put myself in good positions on the greens,” Gooch said. “The thing out here is, if you put it in the wrong spots (on greens) you can have some big numbers.”
Playing in the first team wave of the day, Ihm had a wild-ride, roller-coaster adventure.
He started with birdies at Nos. 1, 3 and 4 to turn in 3-under 33. His back nine simply was crazy, his only par coming on the 10th hole. He made bogey at 11, birdied 12 and 13 and bogeyed 14. A birdie at 15 was followed by bogeys at 16 and 17, then ended with a birdie at 18.
Unlike Ihm, Johnson’s round of 68 was calm and pretty routine. After a bogey at the fifth hole, he made birdies at Nos. 6, 9, 10 and 18.
It was not an especially good day for the two USCC 2011 co-medalists, who finished at 6-under 210 a year ago. This time around, Johannes Veerman of Texas A&M opened with a 4-over 76, while Dominic Bozzelli of Auburn struggled in at 8-over 80.
There were 11 players finishing under par on Day 1, with seven others in at even par.