Monday belonged to the underdogs at the NCAA men’s golf Albuquerque regional at the University of New Mexico Championship Course.
Seventh-seeded Oregon State took advantage of a late lull in the winds to roar down the back nine and take the overall lead after the first round with a 7-under 281.
Fifth-seed New Mexico had a strong outing, as well, shooting a 4-under 284 to enter today’s second round in a third-place tie with Texas A&M, three shots off the pace. The top five team finishers and the top individual not among those five teams advance to the National Championships at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, May 28-June 2.
Top seed Oklahoma is tied for ninth with Boise State at 1-over 289, although the Sooners’ No. 2 player, Jonathan Brightwell, tore up the front nine by starting his round with five straight birdies en route to a 6-under 66.
Sam Meek of Nevada is a stroke back for individual honors at 5-under 67. Lobo freshmen Bastien Amat and Matthew Watkins are tied for ninth after shooting 2-under 70. (First-round results)
“They all hit a spot where it was tough and they all responded really well,” said UNM coach Glen Millican. “We took advantage of some of the scoring holes. It wasn’t perfect. They all had to bounce back from something during the round and they all did a good job of that. If we continue with that, we’ll continue to be able to keep ourselves in a good position.”
Amat and Watkins were pretty good examples of that for the Lobos.
Amat was not having a particularly notable round after the front nine, sitting even. But things turned around on his 10th hole, which is the opening hole as the course is normally played, a 544-yard par-5 with a slight dogleg left. He hit a driver, cutting the corner and sitting about 175 yards out. His approach was pin high with a downhill that he rolled in.
“That was a really good hole for me because I was not struggling, but I was not playing my best golf on the front nine,” said Amat, the Mountain West Freshman of the Year. “Nothing was going bad, but I was kind of slow. That eagle made me go from even to two under par, which is a big difference. I just like being in that position of being under par.”
Watkins had to deal with a round-opening nightmare, doubling the first hole.
“I had a bad hole that made me mad and made me grind back,” he said. “I doubled my first hole. I just told myself to stick with it and try to get it back and I eventually did.”
The turn proved beneficial for Watkins, as well. He birdied both nine and 10, then added two more birdies in a bogey-free back nine.
“A lot of patience,” he said in explaining his late success. “You have to be really patient on this course. It’s pretty tough. You just have to catch your pars.”
Sam Choi rounded out a trio of Lobos below par with a 1-under 71, although at one point of the back nine, he was 3-under.
Brandon Shong shot a 73 and Albert Boneta was at 75.
“We played all right considering the wind and pin locations and the speed of the greens,” Watkins said. “It was all pretty tough, but we played about average, I would have to say. I think this is a pretty good spot that we’re in.”
Brightwell put himself in a pretty good spot with nine birdies overall on the day, along with two bogeys.
“It was a solid to very good day,” he said. “I felt like I played really well. Had a lot of things kind of going my way, putts dropping and I hit some shots that stayed borderline in play. Everything came to click (Monday).”
Everything clicked into to place for the Beavers after the turn as they played the back nine a combined seven-under for their four lowest-scoring players.
“You can’t win it on the first day, but you can certainly shoot yourself out of it with a poor first round,” said Oregon State coach Joe Reehoorn. “It felt like it was a little slow to start and in the middle portion of the front nine. But the guys responded to the adversity, they made the turn and the wind was better on the back nine.”
New Mexico State, the Western Athletic Confernce champion, is in 13th out of 14 teams, led by Garrison Smith, who shot 1-under and is tied for 18th.
NMSU freshman Aidan Thomas, a former St. Pius standout, and Cole Grossi both shot 4-over and are tied for 57th.