It was moving day at the 38th annual Schenkel Invitational Saturday at Forest Heights Country Club.
And the Georgia Southern Eagles moved straight to the top.
Georgia Southern carded the best team round of the day with its four counted scores totalling 12-under par. Only one other squad in the 14-team field was able to come within four shots of that blistering pace as the Eagles jumped from third place into first as the final round commences Sunday morning.
No lead in team golf is entirely safe with the potential for wild scoring swings, but the Eagles’ current perch at 20-under par for the tournament is enough for a decent gap between themselves and second place Vanderbilt (-13).
It should also be noted that Vanderbilt is not only the defending Schenkel champion, but also the current top-ranked team in the nation. And - sitting just one stroke further back - second-ranked Florida is also still in the mix.
“You can’t worry about that at all,” GS coach Carter Collins said following Saturday’s round. “When we’re doing our job, that means we’re focusing on what we can do for ourselves with each shot. When you focus in like that, everything else falls by the wayside.”
That sort of tunnel vision seemed to be on full display during a day that proved to make for challenging scoring conditions at times.
The Eagles finished at 8-under in Friday’s first round and were paired with first round leaders College of Charleston (-9) and Iowa (-8) on Saturday. With temperatures ranging from cold to warm-ish, constant shifts between blue sky and clouds, a few rain drops and a wind that steadily increased over the final two hours of play, it was the Eagles that proved to be up to the task.
Georgia Southern hit the 20-under mark as its team started to make the turn, but a few wayward shots knocked the Eagles back to 16-under and well within reach of Vanderbilt, Florida and North Carolina State (-12) which were all finishing their rounds in the groups ahead of Georgia Southern.
The 18th hole at Forest Heights is considered a birdie opportunity, but the two holes preceding it are very challenging and a potential trap for any player. Facing its only real adversity of the day, the Eagles’ scoring players - Jake Storey, Archer Price, Steven Fisk and Brett Barron - played those holes in 4-under par, including three consecutive birdies at No. 18 to rebuild its lead as a heavy GS patron contingent cheered on from around the final green.
For the second consecutive day, Barron - who is just a freshman - carded the lowest round for Georgia Southern. Barron used an eagle at No. 9 to shoot 31 on the front nine for a second straight day. Two birdies and bogeys early on the back nine negated themselves before Barron got up and down from a greenside bunker for a birdie on No. 18 to card a 66 and a tie for the lowest round of the tournament so far. Barron is 11-under for the tournament and has a two-stroke lead over Vanderbilt’s Theo Humphrey for individual medalist honors.
But an individual can only take a team so far, and it was the additional support from the rest of the Georgia Southern squad that has propelled it into the lead.
Fisk was hot on Barron’s heels in firing a 5-under 67. With five birdies and 13 pars, Fisk provided one of just two clean cards out of the 81 individuals that teed it up on Saturday. When asked about the prospect of defending his team’s lead on Sunday, Fisk sounded much like his coach.
“It’s not about who else is on the course or where other teams are ranked,” Fisk said. “It’s about playing golf. You play the best that you can. If we come out and play as well as we want to, it’s going to end up well for us, no matter what anyone else does.”
Price shot 2-under on the day and Storey shot 1-over to round out the Eagles’ scoring for the day.
When play begins Sunday morning, the Eagles will have their hopes set on a second Schenkel title in four years, with only 18 more holes standing in the way.
“We’re going to go to sleep, we’re going to get up, and we’re going to go through our routine,” Collins said. “In golf, every round and every shot is different, so there’s nothing to compare it to. We’re happy with how we’ve played, but we know that we need another good round.