BRADENTON, Fla. -- The roller coaster ride atop the leaderboard at the DI Men’s Golf Championship continued in the afternoon session at The Concession Golf Club on Saturday. Heading into Day 3, the Southern California Trojans are the top dogs sitting at 3 under. Like Illinois was on Friday, the new leaders are the only current team sitting under par.
“No one expected us. We’re such underdogs,” freshman Sean Crocker said. “No one expected us to be near the top today or even yesterday. For us to do it two days in a row and stay where we are and hold out, it’s amazing.”
“Sean is an exceptional ball striker and this course demands that,” Trojans head coach Chris Zambri said. “I feel like he is in a good spot with his game to play here.”
At the onset, it didn’t look as if Crocker would have a great day. Teeing off on the very tough 10th hole, Crocker bogeyed the first of two consecutive holes.
“Even yesterday on the first day, I’ve just never seen such a small fairway. I was nervous,” Crocker explained. “Then I made bogey, and then another bad bogey.
"I felt like even par is going to be decent -- that I’d still be around the top. [At hole 15] I said, ‘OK, I made a birdie here,’ and then I got onto 17 and cashed it for eagle. That’s when everything changes for someone. I was down, and I made eagle and I’m sitting one under before I even flipped the turn. My confidence shot way up after that.”
While Crocker’s youthful exuberance shined through after his big round, he handled the tough course well beyond his years. Fellow freshman Jonah Texeira is off to a hot start as well. The two seem to follow the lead of sophomore Rico Hoey, who came into the tournament ranked at No. 36 in the nation. Hoey started things off with a bang on Friday, netting a 2 under and shot an even par on Saturday.
“Rico is obviously accomplished,” Crocker said. “He had a great year last year and went to Nationals. I know the whole team expected Rico to come out here and take the whole team under his wings, which he did the first round.
"We, [Texeira and Crocker], were waiting for that one round. Through the season Jonah and I have had, we came up here a said, ‘OK, we can hang with you guys, let’s play some golf.’ Forget what year we are -- let’s go play some golf and try to win some tournaments, and this is a great tournament to be leading in after the first two days.”
“We are alway together 24/7, even outside of the golf course,” Hoey said of his young, yet dangerous team. “No matter what we got each other and we keep fighting to the end.”
“It’s been a great week so far,” Zambri said. “That’s the thing. It’s a whole week, so we need to stay ready for the rest of it.”
The Concession has been a tough course throughout the first two days. Twenty teams sit at 15-above-par or worse, with 13 of those teams sitting at 20-over-par or greater. The Trojans, however, have had consecutive solid days, finishing at plus one in the opening round and the big 3 under on Saturday.
How have they been able to accomplish their consistency?
“With the help of the girls [who played in the Women’s Championship at The Concession a week ago],” Hoey said. “They talked to us about the greens. During the practice rounds, too, we were trying to map out where to hit the right spots and where the dead spots were. And we don’t want to be there!”
Elsewhere, it was a bittersweet day for SMU’s Bryson DeChambeau. While his Mustangs as a team shot 15 over to put them in a 20th place tie at 23 over, DeChambeau shot a Championship best 5-under round. Coming off of an impressive 2 under on Friday, DeChambeau sits atop the individual leaderboard at 7 under.
DeChambeau wasted little time getting the party started. He birdied the second hole and from their he was in a zone.
“Chipping in on two and three [where he eagled] really kick started my round,” DeChambeau said. “From there on out I felt like if I kept hitting balls in the fairway and making a couple putts I could go deep.”
DeChambeau made grabbed some headlines on Friday, and it wasn’t all from his sharp game. He hit the ball into some shallow water on the 13th hole, and instead of taking a hazard, DeChambeau took of his shoes, shirt and socks and hit away to save par. Clearly, he stayed out of the water on Saturday.
“Nothing weird today,” DeChambeau laughed. “I kept it out of the water quite nicely. Had the one mishap on 17, and that was it. I was very pleased.”
That mishap was a bogey on the tough, par-5 17th hole. DeChambeau wasted no time bouncing back, birdying the final hole and getting that stroke back he had lost. His confidence is sky high, and rightfully so.
“I know my game is at its best right now that I have ever played in my life,” DeChambeau said. “If I can keep hitting fairways and keeping it simple and hitting greens, that’s all I can ask for.
“Managing my game has been a big part of this week. I made sure that when I came out here I knew where I needed to hit, instead of focusing on little things like water over there or odd dips in the greens.”