June 1, 2010

D-I Men's Golf Sider: First Round Action

Day One Results 

By Bucky Dent
Special to NCAA.com

OOLTEWAH, Tenn. -- In golf circles, Augusta is best known for hosting The Masters.

But the Georgia city's university is aiming to become masters of the NCAA Division I men's golf championships this week.

"We're a really good golf team," Augusta State coach Josh Gregory said after his team opened with a 1-under par 287 Tuesday in the first round at The Honors Course.

The Jaguars are tied for seventh with Florida, just four strokes out of the lead shared by Oklahoma State (283) and Florida State (283), and would own first place had they not shot a collective 5-over par on the last three holes.

Augusta State was led by Henrik Norlander, whose 4-under par 68 was good enough to tie fellow Swede Jesper Kennegard atop the leader board.

Final rankings reflect just how good the team's been. The Jaguars have been ranked anywhere from 5th to 10th, depending on which poll one believes, and entered the tourney as the No. 9 seed.

Yet Augusta State still tends to fly under the radar for many reasons, all of which Gregory uses to motivate his squad.

"We're the only Division I sport at our school," he said. "We're on a very small budget and a very small school, so we're probably the biggest underdogs in the field.

"These kids weren't recruited by many people, so they play with a chip on their shoulder. I tell them all the time that sometimes, they don't belong on the same course with all these guys."

Norlander put the lie to that one on a humid day that was perfect for scoring, overcoming a pair of quick bogeys with an eagle and a birdie on the front nine, then playing a bogey-free 33 on the back nine.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Norlander is one of three Swedish players on the Jaguar roster. An aggressive performer, Norlander isn't one to waste time pondering a shot.

"My coach is always telling me to slow down," he said. "I'm always walking 40 yards ahead of everyone else. But when it gets too slow, I get frustrated."

Gregory opted to have Norlander lead off for his team, figuring that it would not only best serve his game, but also get his team off to a better start.

Augusta State could slice more strokes off its score in Wednesday's second round if Patrick Reed returns to form. The team's leading player in terms of stroke average, Reed ballooned to a 74 with bogeys on two of his last three holes on Tuesday.

As the lone Division I squad at home, the Jaguars enjoy the kind of status which normally goes to a school's football or basketball teams.

For instance, they get to play at Augusta National once a year, which can't hurt in terms of recruiting. And as Gregory has built the program into a national power, the bandwagon has filled.

Last month, the eighth-year coach casually mentioned to a couple of supporters that it sure would be nice if his team could upgrade its transportation. Two weeks later, the general manager of a Mercedes-Benz dealership in town handed Gregory the keys to a 12-seat Sprinter van, equipped with no less than eight entertainment systems.

Total value of the upgraded transportation? Fifty-four thousand dollars.

"Huge, very nice, more comfortable," Norlander said of the new ride, which shipped Augusta State to southeast Tennessee in style.

"A pipe dream," Gregory called it. "When you have success, it's a little bit easier to raise money."

And to dream of being, for lack of a better term, masters of their level.