STILLWATER, Okla. – As expected, top-ranked Oklahoma State and the defending NCAA champ Oklahoma have been the early tournament focus here at the NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship.
No reason for it not to be, the Cowboys are playing host to the event on its own Karsten Creek Golf Club, and Oklahoma is a short drive away, making this area the center of the collegiate golfing world for the past year. The Cowboys, at 4-under 572, and Oklahoma, at 2-over 578, both are in good position to find a top-eight spot after 72 holes and advance to match play.
Add to it, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma are the focus of a four-part series on the Golf Channel called “Driven,” which makes it easy to lose sight of a few others that could certainly be a topic of conversation come Tuesday and Wednesday next week.
Two of those teams that did their best to get into the mix Saturday are Alabama and Auburn. The two SEC schools navigated the par-72, 7,460-yard layout with a lot of red ink on their scorecards. Alabama posted 9-under 279 while Auburn was just a shot shy of that mark at 280. Auburn’s four counting scores totaled 24 birdies. Alabama recorded 19.
Leading the way for Alabama was senior Lee Hodges (67) and junior Davis Riley (69).
“We had All-Americans play like All-Americans today,” said Jay Seawell, Alabama’s head coach. “If you want to play well at Karsten Creek, that’s what you have to have.”
Hodges and Riley will both be All-Americans this year.
It wasn’t the start the Crimson Tide hoped for. Alabama, which won back-to-back titles in this format in 2013 and 2014, opened up with a 6-over 294.
“I challenged our guys yesterday,” Seawell said. “They were a little down last night on the way home in the van.”
Similar situation for Auburn.
“To be quite honest, I think they were a little bit embarrassed after the first round. We were all a little bit embarrassed,” said Nick Clinard, Auburn’s head coach.
Clinard’s squad opened with a 12-over 300. But they rebounded Saturday.
“It was huge to get that score today,” Clinard said.
Brandon Mancheno led the way for the Tigers with a 66. Through the morning wave, Auburn was tied with Texas Tech for most birdies made after 36 holes at 39.
But, Karsten Creek is not a place you can get comfortable.
“I have been here long enough to know that this golf course can get you at any time if you let your guard down, it did it to us in 2011, so as a coach I know that,” Seawell said.
Seawell’s Alabama team would finish T-14 and miss match play in 2011.
“We need to stay positive, a lot of golf left to play. We start at zero every day. It doesn’t matter what you did yesterday,” Seawell said.
Certainly, Clinard agrees and don’t be surprised if you see these two SEC programs, both ranked in the top 10, be talked about a little bit more this week.