Segundo Oliva Pinto (Photo submitted)
The script went out the window on North Carolina-Wilmington’s season almost before the season even began. It’s funny how things work out.
The whole squad should have been on Johns Island, S.C., on Sept. 9-10. Hurricane Dorian, which crept up the East Coast post-Labor Day, changed all that. With the season-opening Battle at Briar’s Creek cancelled, and Wilmington-area beaches in the evacuation zone, head coach Daniel Bowden had to find a backup plan.
This is the second time in two years that Bowden, a three-year head coach at UNCW, has had to scramble with a natural disaster bearing down. Last season, Hurricane Florence wiped out the first two events of the fall.
Pre-Dorian, Bowden had orchestrated three rounds of team qualifying in Wilmington. He laid all five spots on the line. He also laid down ground rules for the way the team would operate this year. Bowden, who played two years of college golf at Georgia Tech, picked up the every-man-qualifies routine from Yellow Jacket coach Bruce Heppler.
Segundo Oliva Pinto, as UNCW’s top returning scorer, was all but guaranteed to get one the spots. A year ago, Bowden developed a formula to reward summer success with two automatic qualifying spots in the lineup. Oliva Pinto, then a freshman, never had to qualify again.
This time, however, qualifying didn’t shake out as planned. Oliva Pinto came up with the eighth spot. Bowden stuck to his word – Oliva Pinto wouldn’t travel, at least not as part of the team.
“I told Segundo after the qualifier, you never know, this might work out,” Bowden said. “This might be the best thing that ever happened. Approach it as if something good is going to come out of it.”
As it turned out, UNCW was granted a last-minute spot in the Golfweek
Program Challenge at Caledonia Golf Club in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where Bowden also was able to bring three individuals. Oliva Pinto would have stayed home from Johns Island, but this meant he got to play.
Caledonia is a short but tricky layout that forces decision making off the tee. Even tipped out, Caledonia only played to 6,526 yards and a par 70. Oliva Pinto was hitting it like a laser and refused to sacrifice the advantage he could get with his driver.
“Compared to the average player, I would say yes, I’m a bit aggressive,” he admitted. “I like to hit a lot of drivers. It’s one of my best clubs so I try to be aggressive with it. I can sometimes post very low rounds, sometimes high rounds as well because of being aggressive.”
Even in qualifying, the sophomore said, he knew he was on the cusp of something good in his game. Oliva Pinto ended a 36-hole opening day at Caledonia with rounds of 65-66. He trailed by a shot in the individual race.
When he went to the range the next morning, it wasn’t pretty. Oliva Pinto put it out of his head. He continued to pull driver at every opportunity (he wasn’t hitting his 3-wood particularly well, anyway) and gained ground on players who were mostly using fairway woods and driving irons off the tee. Oliva Pinto effectively spent two days wedging it close and making birdies.
“It was so impressive to watch how (Segundo) handled that whole situation,” Bowden said. “The team finished, he was finishing on the front nine, so the whole team came back out and watched the last four or five holes.”
For perhaps the same reason that team qualifying is a challenge for Oliva Pinto – what is there to prove? – a horse race for an individual title revs him up. Bowden approached his man thoughtfully.
“Some guys might need you to say something, but for him, he has that natural just wanting to win,” Bowden said. “He doesn’t get nervous because when he’s near the lead, he’s happy about it.”
About the time his cheering squad showed up, Oliva Pinto went on a four-birdie run from Nos. 6-9 to close with a final-round 9-under 61. It broke a long-held scoring record of 7-under 63 previously set by Darrell Connelly (1998) and matched by Evans Day (2004).
Oliva Pinto included, UNCW is a team that makes birdies – lots of them.
“Even some eagles,” Bowden said. “We’ll be up there in birdies but we’re also up there in others.”
As a team, the Seahawks made 73 birdies (plus two eagles) over the course of three rounds at the Golfweek
Program Challenge. That means more this season as Bowden’s father continues a battle against cancer. Each one contributes to Birdies for Bo.
Bo Bowden underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor at the end of August. Daniel and his brother Jonathan, the assistant coach at UNCW, were able to be with him, which is the other blessing that came with this season’s unpredictability.
“The hurricane allowed my brother and I to go home while he had the surgery,” Bowden said. “We wouldn’t’ have been able to go home without it.”
The season continues in Bo’s honor as Daniel Bowden continues his efforts to shape the young men who play for him. He hesitates to hold someone like Oliva Pinto back. He tries to teach his team “when to hold them and when to fold them.” Despite his propensity to hit driver, Bowden said Oliva Pinto is quite deliberate in his process of getting numbers and setting a game plan. To a certain extent, there’s no changing a player’s natural disposition.
Oliva Pinto grew up going for it. He learned it playing with his dad back home in Argentina.
“I think it’s always been my personality. Plus my dad, he always insisted if I have a chance to go for it, I might as well do it,” he said.
Oliva Pinto, who won the Colonial Athletic Association title as a freshman, has dreams to represent Argentina in the Latin American Amateur to be played in Mexico in January. He must be among the top 6 highest-ranked Argentinians in the World Amateur Golf Ranking to be eligible.
In pursuit of that, he spent most of his summer in the U.S., playing the amateur circuit. He opened the summer with a 67 at the Dogwood Invitational, played on an attackable Druid Hills Golf Club in Atlanta, that put him in contention early, but missed the cut with subsequent rounds of 78-68.
Oliva Pinto was runner-up to Andy Ogletree, the U.S. Amateur champion, at the Monroe Invitational. It was a finish set up by an opening 64.
As for the college season, UNCW should be back to normal when they tee it up at the Inverness Collegiate in Toledo, Ohio later this month. Oliva Pinto is guaranteed a spot in the lineup.
“He’s exempt for next two,” Bowden said. “From here on out, I’m pretty sure there’s going to be a pick spot in my pocket.”
Still, the UNCW program, not to mention Oliva Pinto, is better for the experience. You have to earn your way in Wilmington.
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A STORY OF DEPTH:
Arizona State might have fall under the radar last season, what with Viktor Hovland and Matthew Wolff playing such inspired golf for an Oklahoma State team that won six times.
Those Cowboys are gone now, but Arizona State remains largely intact. In a stunning display of depth, the Sun Devils won the Maui Jim Intercollegiate by seven shots – an effort helped by individual medalist Cameron Sisk – while also sending five players to Desert Forest Golf Club in Carefree, Ariz., for an individual event. All five finished in the top 31, with four finishing in the top 7.
"This was just an all-around awesome week for us," said fifth-year Sun Devil head coach Matt Thurmond. "There are so many cool things to talk about. Cam (Sisk) was unbeatable. I knew that type of performance would come from him and it's pretty cool to start the season with it. Won Jun Lee shot 65 in both the first and last rounds and didn't have a bogey in either, that is amazing. Kevin (Chun An Yu) was his usual awesome self, and if a couple things go his way he's right there with Cam."
Look out, Pac-12.
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THIS MAN KNOWS NO LIMITS:
It was an admirable run that ended Monday morning for 56-year-old Gene Elliott. In an 18-man playoff for the final six spots on the U.S. Mid-Amateur match-play bracket, Elliott was eliminated after a bogey on the second playoff hole.
Elliott displayed an impressive amount of drive just in getting to Colorado Golf Club near Denver for this event. It began the day after the 72-hole Canadian Senior Amateur ended, which meant that Elliott had to board a flight shortly after winning in Canada for the second time in three years.
The Iowa Golf Hall of Famer has done this dance many times already in 2019. He backed up the British Amateur Championship with a start at the George C. Thomas Invitational at Los Angeles Country Club. He also played the British Senior Open and the British Senior Amateur in back-to-back weeks. He won the Herman Sani Senior and the Iowa Senior in back-to-back weeks, and teed it up in the U.S. Senior Amateur two weeks after that.
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TOURNAMENTS TO WATCH
Annika Intercollegiate, Royal GC, Eden Prairie, Minn., Sept. 16-18
An early-in-the-season chance to see how the best women’s teams stack up. USC and Duke, early favorites in the preseason polls, are both in the field.
Fighting Illini Invitational, Olympia Fields (Ill.) CC, Sept. 20-22
: Always one of the must-hit tournaments of the fall season. The top teams should be intact by this point in the season (read: Walker Cuppers on American soil) and ready to compete in Illinois.
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TWEET OF THE WEEK: These (NCGA) guys are good
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PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Golden hour at the Texas Mid-Amateur