BRADENTON, Fla. -- Day 2 saw the top of the leaderboard change hands at Concession Golf Club on Saturday. The Fighting Illini were the only team to make it under par on Day 1, but Saturday did not go as well. Illinois would shoot 3 over, falling into a second-place tie at the end of the morning session.
Heading into the tournament all eyes were on Florida State. Ranked No. 1 in the nation for the first time in school history, the Seminoles finished a bit lower than expected in the Chapel Hill Regional, where they finished third behind Stanford and Charlotte. They responded with an uncharacteristic 10 over on Friday. Had the pressure gotten to them?
“We didn’t come out yesterday and play the way we normally play, there’s no two ways about it,” junior Hank Lebioda said in regards to additional pressure from being the No. 1 seed. “You got to come out here and perform. This is the best field we are going to see all year, arguably the best tournament in the entire world for amateur golf. If you don’t come out with your A game you're going to get smacked around. We stepped up a little bit today, I’m proud of the guys. That’s what we expected we were going to do, it’s what we knew we were going to do.”
The Seminoles tried to put a disappointing start on Day 1 behind them, but started flat again on Saturday. After the first two holes and sinking lower on the scorecard, FSU finally turned it around and played Seminoles’ golf.
“We didn’t finish very well yesterday and then we were 5 over par through two holes. That’s obviously not the start you’re looking for after not playing well,” Jones said. “But to play one under par from that point forward on the last 16 holes shows how tough these guys are. They never give up, and I couldn't be prouder for them because days like today are sometimes harder than when you’re playing great.”
Lebioda led the turnaround, shooting an impressive 2 under and getting him to 1 under par on the tournament.
“I was really proud of how I played,” Lebioda said of his second round. “You got to hit fairways, hit greens, take advantage of opportunities you have and don’t force anything. That’s what I did today. I had a lot of good shots early on and got a groove going. I felt confident so I was happy.”
Jack Maguire had a solid day as well, converting a huge eagle on the 17th hole. As two of the top 15 golfers in the nation, on golf’s biggest stage, you would expect Maguire and Lebioda to feel that it was their job to step it up and become leaders of this team. That isn’t how the Seminoles operate, however.
“We have three guys who are going to be All Americans this year,” Lebioda said. “None of us take an individual leadership role on the team. We have been growing up together. That’s one great thing about what we have at Florida State. We have two juniors and three sophomores, it’s the same crowd that was here at last year’s NCAAs. We all lead together, we’re a team, we work that way and I think that’s why we are succeeding.”
“While we were out there today, he walks up to me on the 17th hole and said, “All right, what do we need, how are we doing?’ It wasn’t about him being 2 or 3 under, or where he was at on the scoreboard. He is a great teammate and a great Seminole," Jones said in regards to Lebioda’s team-first mentality.
Meanwhile, the Vanderbilt Commodores were making some noise themselves. The Commodores, who came in as the No. 5 seed in the tournament, finished Friday’s round at a 13 over par tied for 20th place. By mid-afternoon on Saturday, Vanderbilt would find themselves in the top 10.
Senior Hunter Stewart, the nation’s No. 3 golfer, led the turnaround. But he knew it was a team effort.
“It was a nice team effort all day,” Stewart said. “All the guys were in it. We had some guys who were over early that came back. I had [Matthias Schwab] in front of me today and sensed the momentum come from him.
"I saw him make a lot of birdies which helped settle me in nicely. I think today we came out with more conviction, played a little less defensively, and just were able to free it up a little bit more, which was essential to how we played today.”
Schwab did indeed hit a lot of birdies -- six to be exact. He finished on the right side of par, and along with Stewart’s 3 under, propelled the Commodores back up the ladder. The team’s 4-under was the best round any team had shot thus far at Concession, who is still having her way with the competitors.
“A place like this with lots of ins and outs is kind of difficult to do it all [adjust] in one day,” Stewart explained. “It’s a golf course where if you get out of position, you have to get back in position as quickly as possible. Avoid double bogeys at all costs. It rewards quality shots, and creates separation between the competition and that’s all you can ask for as competitor.”
Heading into Sunday, the Commodores must feel more comfortable sitting at 9 over and in the top 10 scorers than they did on Friday. With one day left before the field is cut to 15, confidence will be something every team needs.
“Whether the execution is there or not, we’ll leave it all out there and play free,” Stewart said. “We can’t get caught up in playing too defensively like we did in the first round. If we continue to do that we’ll do just fine. Keep our heads down, and play how we know we can, which is how we did today.”