Notes: Alabama tied for 2nd after long day at NCAAs
HUTCHINSON, Kan. – Saturday was a marathon at the NCAA Championship. You had first rounds starting and finishing, second-round tee times going past 5 p.m. and some teams playing 36 holes at Prairie Dunes Country Club.
Alabama, the defending national champion, was one of six teams to complete its first and second rounds Saturday. It took until just before sunset, but top-ranked Alabama's 8-under 552 total has the Crimson Tide four shots back of clubhouse leader Stanford, which is at 12-under 548.
"(Feeling) fresh as a daisy," Alabama head coach Jay Seawell joked before adding, "We wanted to finish, and I'm glad we did. … This afternoon was hard. They were tired."
Said Crimson Tide senior Cory Whitsett, who is 2 under through two rounds: "I was hoping I was done with them (36-hole days), but that wasn't the case."
With most of Friday's first round being washed out, Alabama and 14 other teams never even hit a shot – "I saw way too much of Hutchinson yesterday," Whitsett quipped. Of course, that meant for a 36-hole day Saturday, but not like the two-round days to which the Crimson Tide are accustomed during the regular season. In those, golfers play a continual 36 holes, normally with carts, and are provided boxed lunches – and it's not on the national stage, either.
PHOTOS: NCAA Championships (Saturday)
View images from a very long day of play on Saturday of the Men's NCAA Division 1 National Championship at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan.
"The pressure (is the biggest thing)," Seawell said. "When you're playing in a regular-season event, you put your head down and just go. Here, each shot matters."
While Saturday's long day was cause for exhaustion, the silver lining for Alabama and the other five teams that have logged two rounds (Stanford, Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech, California and Georgia) is that they won't have to finish early Sunday morning. The rest of the field will be back on the course at 7 a.m. Sunday.
Alabama freshman Robby Shelton said while he felt tired, he actually was glad he played 36 holes Saturday because he normally gets looser and his game improves during the second half of the day.
"I actually like to play 36 because the second 18 is usually better," said Shelton, who fired a second-round 5-under 65 and is the Crimson Tide's top player, at 3 under. It was a big round, too, considering Bobby Wyatt, Trey Mullinax and Tom Lovelady combined to score 15 shots worse in the second round than they did in the first for the Crimson Tide. Wyatt shot 66-74, not factoring into the team score in Round 2.
Said Seawell of Shelton's second round: "We really, really needed that today."
How the remainder of the stroke-play portion will be completed is still up in the air, though. There's a chance the extra 18-hole portion to determine the individual winner will be scratched so that organizers can get in the 54 holes for the team competition. Then there's the possibility of the team portion being reduced to 36 holes.
- Read Lance Ringler's overview of the NCAA's possible next steps right here.
- See groupings and tee times for Sunday's conclusion of the second round right here.
"There's still the unknown of where the tournament format is going to go, and there's two or three different scenarios," Seawell said, "so I guess we just have to wait and see what they tell us."
Seawell said he would like to get in 54 holes for the team competition.
"We do all the things we do for a team championship," Seawell said.
Alabama is trying to become the second back-to-back NCAA team champion in the past five years – Augusta State, now known as GRU Augusta, won national titles in 2010-11. But the Crimson Tide aren't looking at it as if they are defending.
"You're not defending anything," Whitsett said. "You gotta go back out and win again this year. … You don't sit there and have the trophy on the first tee that first day; you gotta go out and play better than everyone else again."
While Alabama didn't outplay everyone Saturday, there wasn't a team that played more.
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FOCUSED FRESHMAN: Auburn's Matt Gilchrest led the way for true freshmen in the first round Saturday at Prairie Dunes, carding a 3-under 67 that included six birdies.
Pretty good for a round that was supposed to start at 7:50 a.m. Friday.
"Today more than any other tournament, you had to be mentally tough. … I kept my head in the right place all day today," said Gilchrest, who went off around 8:30 a.m. Friday and played two holes before the second weather delay.
He then got five more holes in before play was called for the day. He went to bed Friday night at even par.
Saturday, he had another early wakeup call, resumed his round at 7 a.m. and came out strong, birdieing three straight, at Nos. 18, 1 and 2. After a bogey at the sixth, he added his final birdie at the par-5 seventh.
"I played the easy holes well, and you need to take advantage of those," Gilchrest said.
It's not easy for a college player to shoot 3 under during a round that stretches over two days with three weather delays, especially if that player is a true freshman – Florida State's Cristobal Del Solar, a redshirt freshman, also shot 67. Gilchrest, however, showcases a focus beyond his years.
He won earlier this spring at the UK Bluegrass Invitational, closing out the victory despite making a 9 on one of his holes in the final round. He tied for 13th at the SEC Championship and had five other top-20 finishes.
He's even learned from his poor finishes. He was working on his swing before the NCAA Auburn Regional, in which he tied for 52nd.
"Kind of an immature thing to do," Gilchrest said. "I just worked too much on that where I really didn't practice everything else."
He made sure that didn't happen heading into the NCAA Championship, and that seems to have paid off so far.
"It was kind of a shame because when they blew the horn the last time, I was on a roll," Gilchrest said, "and I wish I was (on) one of the teams that got to go play like 25 more holes or whatever today because I was playing well, but it's all right."
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SHORT SHOTS: Second-ranked Georgia Tech, third-ranked Georgia and sixth-ranked California were among the surprises Saturday. The Yellow Jackets are T-10 at 1 under, three shots out of a spot in the top 8. The Bulldogs, 25th at 13 over, will need a great third round to have a shot at advancing to match play. The Golden Bears are in the same situation at 8 over and T-21. … South Carolina (T-2), Auburn (fourth) and SMU (fifth) will begin their second rounds Sunday morning while LSU (T-6) and Oklahoma (T-6) round out the top eight teams still needing to complete Round 2. … Oklahoma's Charlie Saxon shot a 5-under 65 in the first round Saturday and is even par through 12 holes of his second round. He's a shot off of South Carolina sophomore Will Starke's lead of 6 under. … Sunday's forecast calls for a 40 percent chance of scattered thunderstorms at 7 a.m. when play is scheduled to resume, according to weather.com, with a 30-40 percent chance remaining throughout the day.