East: ETSU’s Enoch hums his way to lead

Rhys Enoch hits balls on the range at The Course at Yale after his second-round 68.

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Leaders: Texas, Kent State (5-under 555)

Individual leader: Rhys Enoch, East Tennessee State (7-under 133)

The top 5: 3. Penn State (560); 4. UCLA (563); 5. Virginia (565).

Close behind: 6. East Tennessee State, UNC-Wilmington, Charlotte (566).

• • •

Do you hear that? That sound you keep hearing in the middle of fairways and greens this weekend at the NCAA men’s regional at The Course at Yale? That’s probably your current individual leader Rhys Enoch, a junior at East Tennessee State, who has been doing quite a bit of humming. (Not to mention stinging.)

And for the record, he has certainly been in tune.

“I’ve been struggling a little mentally lately but I feel pretty good now,” said Enoch, not long after finishing off his second-round 68 that put him at 7-under 133 for the tournament, one shot ahead of Penn State’s Kevin Foley.

You know what they say: Closed lips, goodbye yips.

Hmmmmmmm.

“I’m actually humming when I’m hitting shots right now, just to clear out my mind,” said Enoch, demonstrating a swing with his arms. “It allows me to be as good as I am, and lets me hit really good shots.”

ETSU coach Fred Warren, who happens to have a degree in educational pyschology, joked that because Enoch recently started wearing a watch, “that’s also helped his timing.”

Two years ago, Enoch didn’t feel like he was striking it great when he arrived at the World Amateur Team Championships in Australia. The advice from his Wales national team coach, Neil Matthews?

Uhm, to hum, of course. Enoch said it led the best driving week of his life.

“I’ve never driven it so well,” he said.

Feeling a lack in confidence creeping into his swing earlier this week, Enoch mentioned the humming episode to ETSU assistant coach Keith Nolan, who said, “Why don’t you try that again?”

And so Enoch, No. 80 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, played the front nine of Thursday’s opening round in 5 under, a humdinger of a start, for sure. He couldn’t get any putts to drop on the back nine, but parred in to shoot 65. His 68 Friday registered just as significantly, helping a struggling ETSU lineup into a tie for sixth after 36 holes, just one shot back of Virginia and the fifth and final qualifying spot.

“I’m just just focusing on my humming and attacking the ball,” said Enoch, who will play on this summer’s European Palmer Cup team and will “definitely” return to ETSU for his senior year.

Enoch’s most impressive hum-swinger of the second round probably came at the par-5 16th, where Enoch rocketed his 2-iron from 248 yards onto the green and two-putted for birdie.

“I love my 2-iron,” he said. “I hit it pretty long so I can kind of flight it.”

That wasn’t his only 2-iron of the day, either. Enoch hit Tiger-like stingers from the tee on Nos. 2, 3, 10, 11 and 18, putting him in good position on a course that demands accuracy over length.

“Stinger shots are my favorite,” he said.

Hmmmmmmm. They must be music to his ears.

Don’t turn the Page just yet: Kent State coach Herb Page wore a big smile on his face Friday afternoon inside the Yale clubhouse, but that’s not saying much. Page, in his 32nd year as head coach of the Golden Flashes, doesn’t often look like he’s down.

He was even was smiling when he said he was a bit “perturbed” with the way his team finished its round Friday, despite Kent State posting the best score on Day 2, a 2-under 278, to move into a tie for first with eighth-ranked Texas.

“Actually, ‘perturbed’ isn’t the right word,” said Page. “I just wish we could have finished a little better.”

The Golden Flashes made just three birdies over the final few holes, a stretch that Page thought was for the taking.

Still, Kent State, No. 45 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, is in prime position to surprise some people.

But that’s where Page’s expression gets a little more serious. He’s been around too long to accept feeling comfortable at this point in the weekend.

“It’s only two rounds,” he said. “I don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves. We just need to play smart golf tomorrow.”

The Golden Flashes have a few things going for them. For one, they are coming off a 22-stroke victory at the MAC Championship, which junior John Hahn said has resulted in a huge confidence boost.

Two, they are one of the straightest-driving teams in college golf, which is a huge benefit here at Yale, where unique sight lines and blind tee shots can easily throw you off. “We’re not the longest team, but they drive is pretty straight, and I think that has helped us here,” Page said.

Three, Kent State freshman Kevin Miller is just feeling it. “This course just fits my eye pretty good,” said the understated Miller, from Dover, Ohio, who has put together rounds of 67-68 and is tied for third individually.

“Kevin Miller, that’s your story,” Page said. “Everybody’s asking, ‘Where did he come from?’ He’s just been playing better and better and better. He goes out there, plays with an All-American from Penn State (Foley), a superstar from Texas (first-round leader Cody Gribble, who shot 71 and is tied for third), and nothing bothers him.”

Stat of the day: Seven teams enter Saturday’s final round within eight shots of the fifth and final qualifying spot for NCAAs.

Quote of the day, Part 1: “It’s not every day Penn State qualifies for a national championship, so to have (the 2004) team do it, and to do it my sophomore year (2008), and to have the opportunity to do it tomorrow, it’s an underdog story, for sure,” Penn State senior Kevin Foley. In 2004, Penn State advanced to the NCAA Championship from the East Regional at Yale. In 2006, Foley helped Penn State advance from the East Regional at Ohio State’s Scarlet Course.

Quote of the day, Part 2: “I think you have to play to win to advance," Penn State coach Greg Nye, whose team sits in third, on the thought process heading into the final round. The Nittany Lions are No. 74 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.

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