Transylvania overcomes ninth hole for strong showing in first round
DESTIN, Fla. -- The monster at No. 9 on Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort’s Raven Golf Club bared its teeth on Tuesday as Transylvania approached the tee.
A bear of a par-4 -- long, narrow and water-laced along its left flank -- No. 9 gave the reigning Division III runner-ups the sense they’d escaped, afterward.
“Number nine was our finishing hole,” Transylvania head coach Brian Lane said. “It’s playing strong into the wind, a difficult driving hole. Our second shot was over water and into the wind -- a one-and-a-half to two-club wind.”
On Tuesday, in beautiful but breezy conditions, anyone trying to power left to skirt the heart of No. 9’s fairway risked plunking a ball in water, skimming trees or losing it to the wind.
“Most of us surrendered and went right,” Lane said.
Junior Clay Hinton piped up with, “I went left,” to apparently middling results. He and his teammates took their spanking -- four of the five Pioneers with bogeys -- and got out of there.
“It’s a 4.75 hole right now,” Lane said.
It seemed to be Transylvania’s sole hiccup in the opening round of the 2013 NCAA Division III Men’s Golf Championship. The Pioneers shot a collective 4-over-par 288, trailing only second-ranked Methodist (2-over-par 290) as Tuesday's play wound down.
Forty-one teams had teed off, with half the field playing the par-71 Raven Golf Club and other half playing the par-72 Links Course; Methodist and Transylvania play the Links on Tuesday. Each team will play one round on each course before Friday’s cut. The top remaining 15 teams will play both final rounds on Raven.
The Pioneers opened strong Tuesday, echoing their stellar finish in last year’s national championship. Twelve months ago, a final-round run boosted them from what could have been an unmemorable result into the runner-up slot behind defending champion Oglethorpe.
“Lots of confidence coming from last year,” Lane said. “We have three players back from last year and four players with NCAA experience.”
The Pioneer getting his first taste of NCAA title competition, sophomore Ben Fister, contributed early Tuesday, carding birdies on two of his three first holes and helping Transylvania to 3-under par at one point.
Senior Hunter Frazier and Hinton led the way with even-par 71s. Junior Jantzen Lathem shot a 72; Fister, a 74. Senior Stephen Montgomery shot a 77.
“We’ve got five guys who can go out and shoot under par, no question,” Hinton said. “When we go out and play, we have the confidence.”
He and his teammates would like to finish one spot higher this time. Last year’s rally fell short on the last strokes of the final hole, and if the Pioneers prevail this year, it will be the school’s first DIII title. Transylvania is playing in its seventh consecutive NCAA tournament.
Defending champion Oglethorpe, which also played the Raven course on Tuesday, didn’t open well, ending in a three-way tie for 23rd. No one expects the Stormy Petrels to stay there.
“I know we’ll be in a slot behind Methodist [on Wednesday], but I’ll be shocked if Oglethorpe doesn’t regroup and come back,” Lane said.
His players are minding their own tees. A familiarity with Raven -- the Pioneers played it during last October’s Golf Week Division III Preview, against many of the same NCAA foes they face this week, and finished 11th overall -- is a big factor. They also played it during spring break, which means a definite confidence, even with Raven’s No. 9 monster.
“We’ve played the course a lot,” Hinton said. “We’re very comfortable with it. When you play a course a lot, you know what to expect, where the soft spots are. I think we’ve got enough good experience on it.”