Road less traveled
Kent State's Scott proves mettle on Day 1 of championships
MILTON, Ga. -- When thinking about the NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championships, Kent State generally isn’t the first program that leaps to mind and Nick Scott isn't the first name either.
However, thanks to several long putts that rolled Scott’s way on Tuesday, he was able to put together a solid 2-under 68 on the par-70, 7,319-yard Crabapple Course at Capital City Golf Club. That helped ease the pain of a slow start by his teammates and kept the Golden Flashes in team contention while Scott celebrated one of the best individual rounds of his brief career.
“I had it going pretty early. I made my first birdie on No. 4, the par-5,” Scott said. “I almost had a hole-in-one on No. 6. I hit it to about two inches and made birdie there. Then on No. 7 I hit it to about 10 feet and made it for birdie. So I was 3-under through seven."
Then on No. 8 he rolled in a 40-footer to save par. On No. 9 he made a 20-footer to save another par and finish the front nine at 3-under.
“At that point, my putter was on fire,” Scott said. “I was hitting it all right, but my putter was really hot.”
On No. 10, Scott hit his approach eight feet behind the hole and sank it, going to 4-under through 10. After that hole his putter cooled off a bit down the stretch.
“I played solid from there in. I missed a three-footer for birdie on No. 12, the par 5. I just kind of misread it and maybe didn’t stroke it on-line,” Scott said.
He bogeyed the tough 16th hole and three-putted for another bogey on No. 17 when his lag putt was off. But overall, both he and coach Herb Page, now in his 34th season at Kent State, were very pleased.
“Nick [Scott] played great. I know he made a couple bogeys coming in, but that 16th hole is really a pseudo-par-5. The scoring average will probably be about 4.8 on that hole,” Page said. “I’ll tell you about our team: they are just a bunch of resilient, tough competitors. The best competitive group I’ve ever coached, and that’s saying something.”
A native of Dayton, Ohio, who was recruited by Ohio State, Ole Miss and a couple other Big Ten schools, Scott ended up at Kent State largely because of the reputation forged there by Page, who has led the Golden Flashes to four consecutive appearances in the NCAA championship tournament and five of the last six years.
Yet few people outside of Ohio seem to realize what kind of program Page has built during the last three-plus decades.
“We toil in anonymity. I’ve said that. But these young men know we have a great tradition at Kent State and they never want to let it down,” Page said. “We’ve had a nice run lately. What people don’t realize was that we also had a great run in the 1990s when we had John Mills and Ben Curtis. I was a great coach those years.”
Curtis, of course, has gone on to have a fine career as a professional golfer and is best known for winning the 2003 British Open. He and his wife Candace endowed his alma mater with a $1.5 million scholarship that Page uses to reward incoming freshman from Ohio – like Scott, who was a recipient of the scholarship last year.
“We’re kind of underdogs, I think,” Scott said. “No one really ever puts us up there with the big schools, but we’re pretty solid. We’ve got a lot of good players, a lot of good talent.”
Scott said even he didn’t understand quite how outstanding the Kent State program was until he became a part of it.
“For golf, I didn’t understand coming into it how much our coaches know. It’s unbelievable how much they help you,” Scott said. “They’ve helped me with everything, but I would have to say they’ve helped with my short game the most. I’ve learned to hit different shots around the greens. I used to always just open up the [60-degree] wedge and hit it as high as I could.
“They’ve helped with my putting, too. I’ve worked really hard on that lately, so I was really happy to see some results from that [Tuesday]. It was on and that felt really good. I’ve worked really hard. I’ve put in a lot of hours the last few weeks.”
Page laughed when he heard that Scott was crediting his coaches with the remarkable putting touch he displayed most of Tuesday’s round.
“He’s been working on it. He’s a smart kid giving the coach credit on it,” Page said. “But he’s got good hands and he’s got good touch. I’m happy for him. This is a big confidence-booster for him.”
Scott agreed with that assessment.
“If you had asked me before I teed off if I would have taken a 68, I would have said yeah. So I’ve got to be happy about it, but I know I left a few strokes out there,” Scott said. “Maybe [Wednesday] I’ll come and get ‘em back.”