• • •
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – A school outside the Power Five has never won the Golfweek Conference Challenge, now in its 10th annual playing.
Apparently, Arkansas State didn’t get that memo.
The Red Wolves jumped out unexpectedly on Sunday to a four-shot lead through the opening round. And any anticipated regression on Day 2 never arrived.
Actually, it was the opposite.
Once again Arkansas State cruised around Cedar Rapids Country Club, firing a 12-under 276 after an opening 277 to jump to 23 under and a 12-shot lead (over host Iowa) with one round to play.
It’s been a dominant performance from the Sun Belt squad in a field that also includes UCLA (solo seventh, 1 over).
While those on the outside may be surprised the Red Wolves’ performance in Cedar Rapids, well they did finish runner-up in their season opener.
And head coach Mike Hagen doesn’t play scared. He wasn’t into setting goals this season because why limit what this squad can do?
“He really believes in us,” said senior Joel Wendin.
That faith has been rewarded. Julien Sale bogeyed his final hole but made four birdies in a row from Nos. 13-16 and fired a 5-under 67 to take the individual lead by three shots at 8 under.
Three other players are in the top 15. Wendin is one of those in a tie for second at 5 under while Luka Naglic (T-5, 4 under) and Zan Luka Stirn (T-13, 2 under) are also showing strong.
Arkansas State has not tried to do anything extraordinary. The game plan has been to find fairways and get uphill putts. And don’t be afraid to build on success.
So far, the Red Wolves have mastered that this week. One more day, and it will be fully rewarded.