WILMINGTON, Del. – On a day that saw cold and windy conditions dominate the field, Georgia State used steady play to open a one-stroke lead against UNCW after the first round of the 2012 CAA Men’s Golf Championship at Wilmington (Del.) Country Club.
Freshman Damon Stephenson stands just one stroke off the lead in second place following an opening day 71, as temperatures in the low 50′s and steady 20-mile per hour winds saw only one player break par, no teams break 300 and the first round scoring average finish at 78.24.
The Panthers opening round 300 on the par 71 course was more impressive in the fact that only one player on the squad, sophomore Tyler Gruca, had ever played for a conference championship before today.
“I was extremely pleased with the way we played today,” commented head coach Joe Inman. “Our team continued to play steady golf through very tough conditions. We put ourselves in a very good position today, but there is a lot of golf to play.”
Looking for their third CAA championship since 2006 and seventh conference title overall, the Panthers opened play with all five golfers standing among the top 16 of the individual standings.
“Everyone played well today, but Damon really stepped up,” continued Inman. “Playing even par golf on a very tough course and in these conditions is among the most impressive rounds I have seen in a long time. He has had a great spring season so far and I know he and the rest of the team want it to continue into regional play.”
Stephenson made three birdies and opened with a 2-under par 34 on his opening nine.
“I thought I drove the ball and putted well today which was important in these conditions and with the length of this course,” commented Stephenson. “As a team, we played very well today and got off to the type of start that we talked. If we can continue that the next two days, I think we will be in great shape on Sunday.”
Sophomore Grant Cagle stands tied for seventh following an opening round 4-over 75. Cagle made four birdies, including back-to-back on 16 and 17. His birdie on the 240-yard par-three 17th came after a hybrid off the tee that was just off the green before chipping in.
A trio of Panthers stand tied for 16th after first round 77′s, including senior Clemens Dvorak, Tyler Gruca and freshman Davin White.
After a tough double-bogey on his second hole, Gruca responded with three consecutive birdies at the 15th, 16th and 17th to make the turn at even. He made an impressive 50-foot putt on the 17th to cap the run of birdies.
Dvorak made a pair of birdies on his opening nine while White used steady golf, making 13 pars en route to his 77.
UNCW shot an opening round 301 to stand second, followed by VCU in third after a 305. James Madison stands in fourth following a first day 306, followed by Old Dominion in fifth at 23-over.
The winning team receives the CAA’s automatic bid to one of six NCAA Regional sites, which will be played May 17-19. The full field of teams and individuals will be announced as part of the selection show on May 7.
VCU’s Marc Dobias opened the tournament with a 1-under 70 to take a one-stroke lead over Stephenson. UNCW’s Payne McLeod and Delaware’s Greg Matthias are tied for third at 1-over, followed by William & Mary’s Charlie Kern and UNCW’s Ryan Nagy who are tied for fifth following first round 74′s.
Since joining the CAA the Panthers have won a pair of conference titles, 2006 and 2008, and lost in a one-hole playoff to VCU in 2009.
Wilmington Country Club, which dates back to 1901, has 36 holes of golf and has hosted six USGA events in the past. The South Course, which will be used for the championship, measures to 7,334 yards and plays to a par 71. Recently renovated by Keith Foster in 2008, Golf Digest named it the sixth best course remodel in 2009.