STILLWATER, Okla. – Gusting winds on Monday led to a few nightmares. But all Mother Nature provided on Tuesday was 90 degrees, high humidity and barely a puff of wind.
Georgia Tech head coach Bruce Heppler, who spent two years on the Oklahoma State staff, knew what his charges were getting into.
“I have some experience around here and they always told me that if you don’t like it then wait a minute and it will change,” said Heppler, whose Yellow Jackets shot a solid 5-under-par 283 to take the first-day lead in stroke play at the NCAA Men’s Golf Championships. “I thought by playing [on Monday in the wind] we played this course as tough as it’s going to play. So if it comes back we know what it will be like.”
Led by James White’s stellar 5-under 67 and Paul Haley’s 1-under 71, Tech negotiated the par-72 Karsten Creek course without a player over 76.
“They played well,” added Heppler. “We’ve had a really good year and we’ve got guys who drive the ball in the fairway for the most part. That’s what you have to do out here.
“James [White] played a fantastic round. He managed his game and was never under any stress out here which is hard to do.”
White, a junior from Acworth, Ga., had eight birdies.
“I was thinking that if it blows like it did on Monday I might not finish,” said White. “It was as difficult as I’ve ever seen anywhere. I don’t know what happened. We woke up and it was gone.”
White followed instructions on Day 1 – hit the fairway and stay out of the thick rough.
“I made some putts. I hit it well,” said White. “I know you have to put it in the fairway here and I was able to do that. It’s good to shoot a number like  but it’s a new day [Wednesday]. We’ve all been playing well but there are no guarantees on this course. We just have to wake up [Wednesday] and do it again.”
UCLA also came in under par, shooting 2-under 286 to trail by three after 18 holes. The Bruins had two at 71 and two at even-par. Junior Gregor Main, who won an AJGA event at Karsten in 2007, was one of those at 72. The nation’s top-ranked individual, freshman Patrick Cantlay, shot the other 72.
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“Having experience on this course helps,” said Main. “This is a ball striker’s course and you have to keep it out of the rough.
“I felt pretty nervous on that first tee because coming here we know we have a good shot of winning. Every tee shot you are a bit nervous because you know what can happen if you miss the fairway. There isn’t any pressure on us. Oklahoma State is expected to win so we can just go out and play our game.”
Host Oklahoma State grinded through a 4-over day and will start Day 2 in eighth place. Freshman Talor Gooch and sophomore Sean Einhaus led the Cowboys with even-par rounds. Peter Uihlein shot 73 with Morgan Hoffman at 75. Kevin Tway finished at 77 after, reportedly, getting stung by a wasp before teeing off on No. 10.
“It wasn’t, obviously, the round we wanted to play,” said Cowboy coach Mike McGraw. “The golf course was the most getable you’re going to see it. We love being on this golf course, so if the guys will do a good job of doing what they did the last 10 days to prepare and kind of get back into that good feeling of trying to play good golf, they’ll be find. There’s a lot of golf to be played. You’ve got 36 more holes and they haven’t tightened the noose yet, but they will that third day, I promise you.”
Alabama, playing with the hosts and UCLA, shot even-par 288 with Bud Cauley shooting 70 and Hunter Hamrick at 71. Hamrick has been battling migraine headaches all week and spent Monday night into Tuesday morning in a local hospital.
Texas A&M, Georgia, Illinois and Ohio State round out the top eight after 18 holes.
Like Heppler, Buckeye head coach Donnie Darr spent some time on the Cowboy staff.
“I think the big thing is that we were just patient out there today,” said Darr. “We had a few guys hang in there and make some birdies at the end of the round, but all in all, it was a pretty solid day.”
The top eight teams at the end of three days of stroke play move into a match-play bracket. The head-to-head 18-hole quarterfinals are Friday with the semis on Saturday and the championship match on Sunday. Oklahoma State finished at the top of the leaderboard in stroke play a year ago and advanced to the title match, but fell to Augusta State in a down-to-the-wire affair.
Tee times are reversed on Wednesday with those playing in the afternoon on Day 1 getting the morning times on Day 2.