ATLANTA — After Mark Power made a birdie putt on the 18th hole at East Lake Golf Club on Monday, he pumped his fist and smiled. The freshman from Wake Forest was leading the East Lake Cup and in a good position to win the individual honors trophy.
The passion Power emitted stemmed from the thought of earning his first individual win as a collegiate athlete, but he also smiled because he remembers what it took to get him to this point: disappointment, hard work and a little luck.
The 6-1 freshman from Kilkenny, Ireland, began his collegiate career with a T-9 at 3 under at the Rod Myers Invitational hosted by Duke on Sept. 15. But then his struggles quickly began. Wake Forest hosted its first event of the season, the Old Town Club Collegiate Invitational, the next week as the Demon Deacons finished second.
Power, however, didn’t have a great performance.
“I played good but putting destroyed me that week,” Power said.
After the event, Power did not travel with his team to the next event, the Nike Golf Invitational, in North Plains, Oregon. While disappointing, the 19-year-old took it as a challenge.
“That just kind of gave me a kick in the behind to just get myself (right),” Power said. “You can’t survive out here if you’re not making putts. You can hit the ball as good as you’d like but it always comes down to the greens so I practiced really hard on the greens and I was hitting the ball really good.”
In the month between missing the trip to Oregon with his team and the East Lake Cup, Power dedicated himself to putting, drawing the attention from his teammates.
“He’s always one of the last few up at the range and he goes before class sometimes whereas a lot of us don’t,” Wake Forest junior Marco Steyn said. “He puts in hard hours on the putting greens.”
PHOTO GALLERY: East Lake Cup
Last week, Power saw some success. He competed with his team at the Golf Club of Georgia Collegiate in Alpharetta, Georgia, and shot a final-round 68, finishing T-3 at 5 under, marking his best career finish.
Before East Lake, that is.
On Monday, Power finished 5-under 67 thanks to eight birdies, five of them on his back nine, while also carding a bogey and a double bogey on 11. He finished two strokes ahead of Texas teammates Pierceson Coody and Travis Vick. Power and Vick shared the lead on the back nine until Power closed his round with back-to-back birdies.
While practice certainly benefited him at both Georgia events, Power said just before the Golf Club of Georgia Collegiate, he switched putters. He was using a TaylorMade Spider, switched to a Blade putter but then had some issues that forced fate.
“The shaft got loose so I couldn’t use it and we were just about to head to Georgia so we have a box of putters in the locker room and I just picked one random two-ball out,” Power said. “I was just like, ‘I guess I’m just going to have to use this because there’s nothing else to use,’ and brought that to Georgia, putted really good and it just feels good in my hands and today it felt really good in my hands so I think that’s going to stay in the bag for a while.”
After what he called the best round of putting in his life, Power joined Wake Forest sophomore Vanessa Knecht, who shared individual champion honors with Duke senior Ana Belac, as the day’s winners.
Power said he, Knecht and the Demon Deacons were going for a “clean sweep” at the East Lake Cup after their team won a tournament sponsored game of bowling between East Lake Cup teams ahead of Monday’s first round and then two individual honors.
The next step in sweeping the East Lake Cup for the Demon Deacons: keep the momentum going as match play begins Tuesday.
Power said he thinks Wake Forest is in an advantageous spot Tuesday as two days of match play begin.
“We’re all pretty good putters and the really important part of match play, just try to frustrate the opponent,” Power said. “We say if you play consistent, you can just wear down players nad I feel we’re all pretty consistent players so I feel match play will suit us.”
The Wake Forest men’s team finished stroke play with the No. 2 seed after shooting 4 under-284 as a team, six strokes behind No. 1 Texas. The Wake Forest women’s team finished 4-over 292, earning the No. 3 spot.
The Duke women’s team and Texas men’s team earned No. 1 spots for Tuesday’s team match play semifinals. On the women’s side, No. 1 Duke will face No. 4 Auburn while No. 2 Arizona will face No. 3 Wake Forest. In the men’s semifinal competition, No. 1 Texas faces No. 4 Vanderbilt and No. 2 Wake Forest will face No. 3 Oklahoma State.