BRANENTON, Fla. -- The first 15 teams took the course at daybreak on The Concession Golf Course in Bradenton, Florida, and by mid-afternoon, Georgia stood atop the first grouping.
The Concession has proven thus far to be no easy course. It feels as if the fairways last for days and the greens come up extremely fast. That being said, there were very little scores under par for any of the first 15 teams.
“The greens are really tough,” Lee McCoy, the No. 5 golfer in the nation and Jack Nicklaus Award finalist, said of Concession. “In all honesty it's not a golf course that sets up really well for me, it’s really open off the tee and it doesn’t seem to let up, it’s really long and I’m not one of the longer hitters out here."I hit it pretty well today but I just didn’t make any putts -- at all. Seventeen pars and a bogey. I had some opportunities and couldn’t capitalize. That lets me know if I come out and make just a few tomorrow I’ll be right there.”
“This is a hard golf course,” UGA head coach Chris Haack said. “You got to really stay in the game and keep your head above water. I was happy to see all of them do that today.
"This golf course is really long, and it has greens that are built for being really short. It’s a combination of length and trouble off the tee and really tough, firm, fast greens. It’s about as hard a place you could play.”
In a field of 156 participants, and so few negative numbers, the Bulldogs -- despite not having their best stuff -- have to be happy playing even and sitting atop the pack going into the afternoon groupings. That is by far a better starting performance than they had in Regionals, where they came out of the first round 19 over par.
“It relaxes you a little bit,” Haack said of the Bulldogs' strong start. “You don’t have to feel like you are immediately behind the eight ball like we did at Regionals. At the same time, you still know that there are a couple of more rounds of golf that have to be played. It’s a hard golf course and if you let up at any point it can up and bite you. We just got to keep going and hope that the positive momentum stays with us.”
“That was about the best thing that could have happened to us,” McCoy said of that Regional first round. “Obviously that’s not the way you plan it out, but to come back from a deficit like that -- we were next to last after the first day -- that shows that you really got something and your team really wants it.”
McCoy set the pace for the Bulldogs right off the first tee. He outdrove both of his competitors by at least 20 yards on a perfectly placed ball in the fairway. It’s almost as if McCoy has no fear, even on college golf’s biggest stage.
“As much golf as I play, the gravity of the event doesn’t really set in as much as you may think," McCoy said. "It’s kind of another day at the office and it’s best to treat it that way. That being said, if we’re here on the last day and I have a putt to clinch my match, the nerves are certainly going to be there.”
Freshman Zach Healy led the way for the Bulldogs. He has been playing stronger since the Regionals where he had a momentum-changing 67 that turned the tides for UGA. This is a huge boost for the Bulldogs, especially from a freshman who wasn’t expected to make the lineup.
“He’s an incredibly hard worker,” McCoy said of Healy. “He doesn’t go out and just beat balls all day. He does, but he does it with a purpose. He’ll sit out there and chip and putt until he can’t see the ball. He’s a really dedicated guy. He put up the round that really turned it around for us at Regionals and changed the whole tone of the event and right now he’s tied for the lead.”
The Bulldogs can sleep much easier Friday night compared to their last outing at The Farms Golf Club in San Diego. It was a solid effort from each individual on Friday, and if UGA continues to play like they did on Friday, they are sure to stay in the hunt to the final day.
“Spectacular,” McCoy said about his team’s play. “It’s not easy and I’m proud of the guys. Obviously it’s the first day, but it definitely is going to be a little less nerve racking over the next couple days. We’re still going to have to post good numbers because this course can eat you up in a hurry if you're not paying attention, but I am just so proud of the guys.”