ALPHARETTA – It’s not about how you start. It’s all in how you finish.
Things didn’t get off to a great beginning for the Georgia Southern golf team Thursday, but a furious charge on the final nine holes put the Eagles in fourth place after one round of the NCAA Southeast Regional at the Capital City Club Crabapple Course.
With the lowest four scores of each squad’s five competing members counting towards the team score, GSU managed just a 9-over effort on the first nine holes – the Eagles began the round on the 10th tee – but rebounded to shoot a combined 1-under par on the way in.
“We got off to a rocky start, but our guys really hung in there,” said GSU coach Larry Mays. “When we got to the front nine, which plays a little easier, most of our guys played really solid. We were able to make some birdies and put up a good score.”
“We just wanted to hang in there for the first nine,” said GSU low-scorer Logan Blondell. “You can’t win a tournament on the first day, but you can play your way out of it if you aren’t careful. We made some pars and then gave ourselves chances for pars and birdies on the back nine.”
The scoring differential from the front nine to the back was consistent throughout the field. Many teams jumped to the top of leaderboard by playing the easier front nine first, only to fall back to the field as the back nine took its toll.
One such victim was Southern Conference champion Furman.
At one point, the Paladins had sole possession of the lead at 5-under, but struggled throughout the last half of the day to finish 11-over – good for a seventh place tie.
“Honestly, I didn’t look at a scoreboard until we were through our 16th hole,” said Mays. “When it gets closer to the end and you start worrying about finishing in the top five, you have to pay more attention, but today we just wanted to go out and play our game.”
Blondell led the charge for the Eagles.
The junior managed to get through his first nine holes with just two bogeys before making his mark over the final nine.
Blondell stuck a wedge within 10 feet at the second hole to set up his first birdie of the day.
On the tee at the 216 yard third hole, Blondell hit another beauty that settled just five feet from the hole to set up his second straight birdie to bring him even for the day.
One more birdie on the difficult pin placement at No. 7 got Blondell to come in under par for his round – a feat that only seven others in the 65 player field could achieve.
“I got some opportunities and just took advantage as best I could” said Blondell. “I started hitting the ball better later in the round and got a better feel for my game and for the course.”
Key to GSU’s success Friday was the continued stellar play of this season’s emerging Eagles.
Aside from Blondell and senior Spence Fulford – who shot a 2-over 72 – no one on the GSU roster has any experience in regional play.
That inexperience was hard to notice from the scorecards, as seniors Matt Deal (72) and Ryan Zabroske (75) and freshman Florian Sander all turned in solid efforts.
“I was pretty nervous,” said Deal. “After the first tee shot, I kind of settled down. I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t get any birdie putts to fall, but you just take your pars and move on.”
In tune with its No. 1 national ranking, Oklahoma State turned in the best team performance of the day, topping the leaderboard at 2-over. No. 19 Clemson is second at 3-over and No. 16 Georgia Tech leads the Eagles by a stroke at 8-over.
GSU tees off this morning at 7:50 a.m. along with Brigham Young (+9) and No. 13 Arizona State (+10).
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.