Ross Steelman (Georgia Tech Athletics photo)
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For the last two years, Grayhawk Golf Club’s Raptor Course has proved a stern test for the best men’s college golfers, and it remained so Friday.
The opening round of the NCAA Men’s Golf Championship teed off Friday, and scoring conditions were difficult. A reminder, for the men, Grayhawk plays as a par-70 (not like the par-72 it did for the women) and at 7,289 yards.
Last year, Vanderbilt, North Carolina and Oklahoma were at 14 over following four rounds of stroke play. This year, it looks like that score could be in play again with the golf course expected to play more difficult as the week goes on.
No team shot under par in the morning wave, though Georgia Tech was able to card an even-par round.
Here’s a look at what happened during the first round of the men’s NCAA Championship:
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Ross Steelman takes command
In four rounds last year at the NCAA Men’s Golf Championship, Ross Steelman made only three birdies. He didn’t make any on the back nine.
It took Steelman only four holes Friday to match his entire total from 72 holes last season.
The senior at Georgia Tech birdied three of his first four holes and added three more on the back nine in his opening-round 64, which is the lowest score recorded in the first round at Grayhawk the past three years. He didn’t have a bogey and was in control from his opening tee shot.
“I hit a 4-iron a lot further than I thought I could on 1,” Steelman said. “Hit a pitching wedge to maybe 20 feet and made a good putt to start it off.”
Steelman said he continued to remind himself par was a good score. And his 64 was a great one on a difficult Friday.
Following the morning wave, Steelman’s 6 under was two shots in front of the closest chasers, which include Arkansas’ Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira, New Mexico’s Matthew Watkins and Vanderbilt’s Cole Sherwood.
Steelman’s experience at Grayhawk was pivotal to his fast start, and he’s confident after the opening 18.
“Kind of knowing what to expect for 12 months coming into it is huge,” Steelman said. “You kind of come in hearing the horror stories of how hard it is and seeing it on TV. Just being able to know what lies in front of you and know that it’s not impossible.”
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Georgia Tech starts strong
Georgia Tech has been one of the hottest teams in the country coming into the NCAA Championships, with victories at the ACC Championship and the Salem Regional. That’s why the heat was no bother to the Yellowjackets on Friday.
They shot even-par 280 in the opening round, with Steelman’s 64 leading the way.
No other team in the morning wave shot better than 1 over.
“Sometimes the first (round) is the hardest one to play because you’ve waited all year for this moment,” Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler said. “To get off to a pretty good start is certainly very helpful.”
Five-bag Bartley Forrester had the next-best round at 1-over 71. Connor Howe added a 2-over 73, and Christo Lamprecht was the final counting score at 3-over 73.
Heppler said his team’s record is a lot better than it looks on paper. With numerous runner-up finishes before the recent hot streak, he’s confident about where his team is positioned.
“It’s really just turned into five guys who can score,” Heppler said. “It’s just finally getting all five guys playing at the same time.”
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Pepperdine in the early mix
It should be no surprise to see Pepperdine near the top of the leaderboard at Grayhawk.
The Waves won the title in 2021 and made match play last year, falling in the semifinals to Arizona State.
Another year is here, and Pepperdine is lurking near the top of the leaderboard after the opening round. Of teams who teed off in the morning wave, the Waves shot 1 over and were behind only Georgia Tech and tied with Arkansas.
The most impressive part is only two players from Pepperdine’s lineup in 2022 are with the team at Grayhawk this season. William Mouw and Derek Hitchner each shot 3-over 73 on Friday, and it was the fresh faces who carried the Waves.
Roberto Nieves fired a 2-under 68 to lead Pepperdine. Luke Gifford and Sam Choi added rounds of even-par 70. And by the end of the first round, the Waves will be near the top, a sight other teams have gotten familiar with at Grayhawk.
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Vanderbilt conquers afternoon wave
Vanderbilt came to Grayhawk as the top-ranked team in the country for the second straight year. Playing in the afternoon and tougher wave in the opening round, there’s no doubt coach Scott Limbaugh would have taken any round near even par.
Well, the Commodores nearly did that.
Vanderbilt sits T-4 after the opening round, two shots behind Georgia Tech, and carded the lowest round of any team in the afternoon wave. Had it not been for a William Moll double on his final hole of the day, the ninth, Vanderbilt would be tied for the lead.
Sophomore Gordon Sargent, the reigning NCAA individual champion, started slowly with three bogeys and no birdies after his first 15 holes, but he birdied Nos. 7 and 8 and sits at 1 over after the opening round.
Cole Sherwood led Vanderbilt with a 4-under 66 that included five birdies on his back nine, including three straight on Nos. 6-8. Reid Davenport shot even-par 70, and Moll finished with a 74.
by Cameron Jourdan, GolfweekView results for NCAA Division I Championship