Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
NCAA MEN’S GOLF CHAMPIONSHIPS BLESSINGS GOLF CLUB, FAYETTEVILLE:
3 individuals combine forces at NCAA Men's Golf Championships
Julian Perico of Arkansas hits Friday, May 24, 2019, onto the 16th green during the first day of play in the Men's NCAA Golf Championships at Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- The University of Arkansas' Julian Perico, Utah's Kyler Dunkle and Western Kentucky's Billy Tom Sargent were not accompanied by their teams to the NCAA Men's Golf Championships this week.
So the trio of playing partners dubbed themselves "Team Indy," and they went out and attacked Blessings Golf Club in the opening round of stroke play Friday.
Dunkle played bogey free for 13 holes and navigated the 7,550-yard layout with a 3-under 69 to lead the morning wave of golfers, while Perico and Sargent shot 71s to put themselves in contention for medalist honors.
Oklahoma State's Austin Eckroat and Arizona State's Chun An Yu also fired 69s in the early afternoon wave.
Those 69s stood up until the final pairing on No. 18 finished just before dark with California's Collin Morikawa carding a 5-under 67.
"I heard a lot about this course," Morikawa said. "I heard it was tough, challenging, and you know I'm always up for the test. When I came out here, it really fit my eye.
"I had a great practice round. It really sticks to my strength. I putted really well today. I didn't make many up and downs. I kept the ball in play and that's what really matters."
Eckroat's 3 under led No. 1 Oklahoma State's assault on the course. The Cowboys, starting on No. 10 in the afternoon, posted a 2-over 290 to claim first place.
No. 10 Stanford slotted in right behind Oklahoma State with a 3 over, paced by Isaiah Salinda's 70 in the anchor position.
"I was happy how we opened up," Stanford Coach Conrad Ray said. "It's a really tough test of golf. It's fair but it's tough. I think we got a little lucky in the afternoon. The wind dropped a little on the back nine."
No. 11 Auburn and No. 12 California tied for third at 4 over with 292s.
"They did a great job today," Cal Coach Walter Chun said. "I told them last night the first round was going to be the hardest in terms of just waiting all morning and just the jitters of an NCAA championship."
Oklahoma State, the defending national champions, were led by the sophomore Eckroat, who turned in four birdies and one bogey.
"I just hit it really well today," Eckroat said. "I was hitting fairways, hitting greens and that was about it. I didn't really make any putts today. Well, I made a couple of good par saves, but other than that I just hit it really well."
Matthew Wolff, the No. 1 collegian, and Zach Bauchou came in at 1 over, while No. 2 Viktor Hovland shot 3 over for the Cowboys.
"You always want to get off to a good start and learn the golf course, and I think we did that," Oklahoma State Coach Allen Bratton said. "It's a hard course to contend with, and then the conditions were difficult.
"We get to go out early tomorrow so we'll have fresh greens and we'll see what we can do. We start all over tomorrow and try to shoot as low as we can, and hopefully that's good enough to be leading the field."
No. 17 Texas A&M had the best score of the morning round at 8 over, good for a fifth-place tie with No. 3 Wake Forest.
Ohio State was seventh at 9 over, followed by No. 5 Texas (+10) and No. 14 Georgia (+12), with No. 2 Arizona State and No. 13 Clemson tied for 10th at 14 over.
The 30-team field will be reduced to 15 teams after 54 holes of stroke play, then cut again to the final eight teams for match play after 72 holes.
The Arkansas freshman Perico bolted to 3 under, briefly holding the lead, after birdies on 2, 3 and 6. His round took a turn when he misread the line on a 10-foot birdie putt on 8 and had to settle for par, then drove into a bunker on 9 and made bogey.
"I felt that I could have played way better," Perico said. "I didn't feel that I played that good, but I still managed it to the point where I could shoot under par, which is what you're trying to do here. I hit a lot of poor shots out there. I'm happy about my round, but I'm really disappointed with a couple of things about it."
Perico three-putted the par-3 13th, got a stroke back on 15, then bogeyed No. 18 by getting too deep on the green.
"I mis-clubbed myself on 18 and hit a disgraceful shot on the back of the green," Perico said. "No chance of making bird from there. It was pretty good, and 71 here is a good round. Not a lot of guys have shot it this far. So it's fine. Solid round."
Arkansas Coach Brad McMakin said he would rate Perico's round an A-plus based on the circumstances.
"I tell you what, there are some really good players out there having a hard time with the course," McMakin said. "It's playing as tough as I've seen it play in 10 years.
"I probably mis-clubbed him on the last hole, but I didn't want him to come up plugged. Overall, he played fantastic. He hit a couple of great wedge shots and made a couple of great saves on 11 and 14.
"If he keeps playing the way he's playing and keeps driving it, he's going to be able to shoot under par every round. His driver's really, really good right now."
Dunkle made birdies on 2 and 5, then added a third on No. 13 to get to 3 under. He alternated bogeys and birdies the next four holes and played 18 in par.
"It was really fun, but it was really stressful," Dunkle said. "I didn't hit the ball into the greens the way I wanted to, but I putted almost out of my mind. I made a lot of 10- to 12-footers for par that were really good par saves."
Dunkle said Perico and McMakin were extremely helpful with lines off the tees and areas to avoid during Thursday's practice round. He also said the trio decided to have fun with their group.
"We actually mentioned that at the beginning of the round, that even though we're all out here playing as individuals, we said we're Team Indy," Dunkle said. "So we were saying if we put all of our scores together, let's go try to win this tournament as indies."
Sargent had a pair of bogeys in his first four holes, but made four birdies over the next seven holes to get to 3 under. He bogeyed 16 and rebounded from having to take a drop on 18 to close with a bogey.
"He was hitting a lot of really quality shots and was able to get a couple of putts to go in," Western Kentucky Coach Chan Metts said.
Sargent said the players encouraged each other.
"We had a really big crowd today, and it was nice hearing some claps and applause," Sargent said. "We all three played well today, made a bunch of putts and birdies and stuff. It was good."
Sports on 05/25/2019
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