SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – John Augenstein had squandered a hot start.
The Vanderbilt freshman had begun his third round at the NCAA Championship birdie-birdie, but he’d fallen flat.
A bogey at the par-4 fourth was followed by a double bogey at the par-3 fifth. Augenstein had airmailed the green with an 8-iron and flubbed his ensuing chip 3 feet in front of him before getting on the green and two-putting.
But there was no fear of a spiral. This up-and-down start is classic Augenstein.
“Two holes later, he’s hitting a 6-iron into a par 5 and stripes it right over the flagstick,” said Dusty Smith, Vanderbilt’s assistant coach.
In fact, Augenstein hit it to 4 feet for birdie at the par-4 sixth, made another at the seventh and stuffed it inside 5 feet at the par-4 ninth for three birdies in four holes.
Augenstein would finish the day with a seven-birdie 3-under 69, leaping 26 spots into a tie for 24th at 3 under.
“I definitely could have taken it pretty low today,” said Augenstein, ranked 75th in the country.
Regardless, his strong play helped jump Vanderbilt three spots and into the overall lead at Rich Harvest Farms. The third-ranked Commodores posted an 8-under 280 in Round 3 and own a one-shot lead at 18 under.
This certainly isn’t an unfamiliar place for Vanderbilt.
The Commodores were the 54-hole leaders at last year’s NCAA Championship, and they repeated that feat Sunday. Vanderbilt has reached match play each of the last two years at NCAAs, losing in the quarterfinals both times.
As Vanderbilt closes in on a third straight appearance, attitude is paramount.
The key to Sunday’s 280, tied for the round of the day? Vanderbilt didn’t have to get up well before the crack of dawn like it had the previous day to complete Round 1.
“We just said, ‘Guys, we’ve got the good draw. Let’s just be excited going to the first tee box,’ ” said Scott Limbaugh, Vanderbilt’s head coach.
Aside from Augenstein, the Commodores didn’t jump on Rich Harvest Farms early Sunday. But they eventually got there.
Senior Matthias Schwab posted a bogey-free 70 to move into a tie for third at 9 under. Sophomore Patrick Martin posted 72.
The other counting score was Theo Humphrey, a junior who faced a 50-footer for eagle at the par-5 18th. The first part of the putt was uphill breaking right, with the last 20 feet shifting to severely downhill and moving left.
Humphrey had missed a number of putts inside 10 feet Sunday, yet he stepped up, aimed a little right of the hole and drained the snake.
“It makes the day feel a lot better,” said Humphrey, who posted 3-under 69 to move to T-22 at 4 under.
But back to Augenstein, who could be a bear if Vanderbilt indeed makes match play.
The freshman won all three of his matches at the SEC Championship, earning Vanderbilt’s clinching point in the semifinals and finals.
When he’s hot, he’s almost unstoppable. Augenstein has earned the nickname “Johnny Golf” at Vanderbilt, but there’s a more recent moniker that has taken form.
Smith coined the nickname “Flash” for Augenstein (it also comes in the “Johnny Flash” variety). The freshman has a knack for fluctuations, going from cold to hot in his play and negative to positive in his attitude in an instant.
In essence, his game and attitude can be all over the place.
“See him here, see him there, he’s just kind of all around,” Limbaugh said, with a laugh.
But it’s been beneficial for Augenstein. Smith walked all 18 holes Sunday with Augenstein, as the assistant coach has done nearly every round this spring, and knew not to panic about that bogey-double bogey stretch.
If Flash can start the round birdie-birdie, the red numbers aren’t going to stop.
“The thing about John is usually when he gets off to good starts, he’s going to be making birdies all day,” Smith said.
Flash has found his spark, and Vanderbilt may just be getting started.