OOLTEWAH, Tenn. — Confidence was the operative word in the first round of the NCAA Championships at The Honors Course on Tuesday. Some of the players entered with confidence to spare; others had to find it once they got here.
Falling under the former category would be the two teams tied for first place at five under par, Oklahoma State and Florida State.
“This is the easiest tournament to win all year,” said OSU sophomore Peter Uihlein, who paced the Cowboys with a three-under-69. “That’s the way we approach it, and it works for us. A lot of guys psych themselves out because this is the national championship. You don’t want to go out there and force things. You just play your own game.”
That’s easy to say when your program has won 10 national championships. Winning titles is expected at OSU. Not so much at Florida State, where a fourth-place finish in 1957 stands as its best showing in this tournament. But the Seminoles came to Tennessee no less confident than the Cowboys after a second-place finish in the NCAA Central Regionals at Notre Dame last month.
“We played well in our regional, and our kids built on that,” FSU Coach Trey Jones said. “Our practice round [on Monday] was fantastic. So we came out today relaxed, really confident.”
Three Seminoles finished under par, led by Seath Lauer’s 69. He came to the par-4 18th at five under and could have been the individual leader for the day had he managed a par, but he double-bogeyed to drop a shot back of the co-leaders, who have one thing in common besides their four-under-par 68s: Arizona State’s Jesper Kennegard and Augusta State’s Henrik Norlander are both from Sweden.
Like the teams from Oklahoma State and Florida State, Norlander came to this tournament brimming with confidence, and not even a three-putt bogey on his first hole, the par-4 10th, could derail him. He followed that with an eagle on the par-5 11th.
“After that I played solid golf the rest of the day,” said Norlander, who made four birdies and just one more bogey for his 68.
Kennegard was coming off a shaky eight-over effort in the NCAA Southeast Regional. But he pounded his drive at the 10th, his first hole of the day, right down the middle and something clicked.
“It was a good driver on 10, then an even better one on 11,” Kennegard said. “So on the 12th, I felt confident enough to hit it again.”
Kennegard’s tee shot at 12, a short par 4, left him 80 yards to the pin. He hit a gap wedge to 20 feet and drained the putt. Confidence restored, he went on a run to get as low as six under for the tournament before eventually dropping back to four under by the end of the day.
If you weren’t a Swede on Tuesday, 69 was a popular number; 10 players shot that score on a day when The Honors, its greens softened by rain the previous two days, was hospitable.
“The wind never blew, the ball was stopping when you hit the greens, and the greens weren’t severe; in fact, you’d have liked for them to be faster,” said Clemson Coach Larry Penley, whose team is three shots behind the leaders at two under. “If you were gonna get it, today was the day.”
Thirty-five players broke par, leaving some coaches to wish for some bad weather on Wednesday.
“You gear up for it to be tough,” said Washington Coach Matt Thurmond, whose team was a pre-tournament favorite but shot one over for the day. “In our minds, we prepared for par being a good score. We’re hoping as the week goes on it gets a little tougher. We like tough conditions.”