SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Florida State might be the second-ranked team in the country and boast the top-ranked player in the nation in senior John Pak. But Seminoles head coach Trey Jones noted that his talented squad is still very green when it comes to NCAA Championships.
That’s why Friday’s opening round of nationals was so important.
“We don’t have a single player that has played in this tournament,” Jones said, “so I felt like this was going to be the one round – and actually just the first nine – if we could just get off of that back nine, then we can settle in and just play.”
Led by strong performance by its two seniors, Pak (2-under 68) and Vincent Norrman (69), Florida State battled through a blistering afternoon at Grayhawk Golf Club and managed 2 over through that back side before finishing at 1-over 281 in firm and fast conditions. The Seminoles’ start was good enough for solo sixth, just five shots back of Texas Tech’s 4-under morning performance and two worse than Pepperdine’s afternoon-best round of 1 under.
However, with Grayhawk not giving much in terms of birdie opportunities (the scoring average was around three shots over par), there wasn’t much separation on Day 1. Florida State is only six shots ahead of ninth, and just 25 strokes make up the difference between first and last in the 30-team field.
“Probably the fewest amount of birdies you’ve ever seen in a national championship,” said Jones, whose five players combined for just 10 circles on their cards. “They just didn’t put the pins in places you could get after it. It was a par-fest for a lot of teams, and that’s why I think we’re all right there.”
Pepperdine head coach Michael Beard got 10 birdies out of his two under-par guys on Friday, William Mouw (68) and Joey Vrzich, but his other two counters combined for just two, though they also only made four total bogeys. He pointed out that Grayhawk going down to just two par-5s – and then stretching out one of those to 650 yards – also kept anyone from really staking a big lead early. His four scorers were just 1 under on the two three-shotters.
“And then throw a little desert in here and there and now you’re just trying to scrape around par,” Beard said.
Oklahoma head coach Ryan Hybl and his squad weren’t surprised about how the course played. They figured it would be punishing. Hybl also wasn’t shocked with how the top-ranked Sooners responded to nearly being eliminated at regionals.
Oklahoma needed a final-round rally in Albuquerque just to get here, though through 18 holes the Sooners are even par with Jonathan Brightwell (68) and Quade Cummins (69) leading the way.
“Unreal,” Hybl said to how his team reacted to their regional comeback. “A lot of people said, well, you guys were supposed to be here. Well, when you’re fighting for your life, it was a bigtime moment for us and the shot of momentum that we kind of needed.”
Hybl added: “We didn’t play phenomenal or anything, but we did our part.”
Texas didn’t end the day feeling great, as the fifth-ranked Longhorns are 14 over after the first round. Travis Vick (68) and Mason Nome (72) kept things from really getting sideways, but stars Cole Hammer and Pierceson Coody combined for six doubles and 16 over.
But again, Texas is just eight shots back of eighth.
“We had an anomaly,” Longhorns head coach John Fields said. “But no use crying about spilled milk. I mean, they’re stinging right now, and they’ll take that fire and get out there and get it going our way tomorrow.”
Even with his team getting punched in the mouth early, Fields applauded the course setup. It’s a fitting national-championship test, he said.
“And it’s going to try to pull those eight best teams out.”