By Murray Evans
PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 21, 2013) – Oklahoma Christian knew successfully defending its National Christian College Athletic Association men’s golf title wouldn’t be easy, and sure enough, the Eagles had to grind out a round on the opening day of the NCCAA Championship on Monday.
The Eagles, trailing the leaders by 15 shots at one point, rallied within four before settling into fifth place – eight shots back – on an overcast day at The Hombre Golf Club.
Playing on The Hombre’s Ugly and Bad courses, the Eagles posted a team score of 292 and were in the middle of a logjam atop the leaderboard. Dallas Baptist (Texas) led the event at 284, but 10 teams were within 15 shots of the lead, including Southern Wesleyan (S.C.) at 289 and Lee (Tenn.) and Colorado Christian at 291.
OC’s No. 4 player, Taylor Williams, helped keep the Eagles within striking distance with a stellar 2-under-par 70 on the 6,410-yard layout. Williams was tied for fourth, three shots behind the leader, Zach Moore of Southern Wesleyan.
“We did a lot of things right,” OC coach David Lynn said. “But we had a game plan of trying to minimize our mistakes today and we made a lot of mistakes, a lot of double bogeys. We need to tighten it up for tomorrow and I think we can. We got a little emotional out there, a little more emotional than I like to see us get out the golf course.”
Starting on the course’s “Ugly” holes, the Eagles combined for 11 bogeys on the front nine, including a pair of triple bogeys that ballooned Johnny Ellis’ score. He eventually finished with an 80.
The Eagles had particular issues at No. 15 on the “Ugly” side, playing the par-4 in a combined 7-over.
Sam Johnston, fortunately, had four birdies to go with his two bogeys and then channeled his inner Nick Faldo, parring nine straight holes after reaching 2-under. Johnston finished bogey-double bogey, however, on the course’s “Bad” side to finish at 73.
Alasdair Dalgliesh, who tied Johnston for second in the NCCAA tournament last year, posted a 74, while the Eagles’ No. 5 player, Trey Payne, overcame seven bogeys to finish at 75. Two of Payne’s bogeys came on his final three holes.
Williams was 1-over through six holes, but a birdie on No. 17 put him back at even par and he added birdies on the par-5 No. 4 and par-4 No. 6.
“He hasn’t been hitting the ball like he wants,” Lynn said of Williams, who was making his national-tournament debut. “He didn’t hit it well in either practice round but he’s been working on something. I don’t know if he found it a little bit today or if he just gutted it out. He has that ability. … I’m extremely proud of his round today. That’s kind of the glue that held it a little bit together from being much worse than it was.”
Dallas Baptist, OC’s Heartland Conference rival, jumped out to a quick lead and stood at 10-under for a time before finishing the day at 4-under.
“We’re certainly not out of it,” Lynn said. “We’re capable of shooting 10- to 12-under-par on this golf course as a team if we kind of get rolling. That will be our game plan for the next couple of days. I think it’s possible.”