It was a give-and-take kind of day for the East Tennessee State golf team in the first round of the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate at Blackthorn Club.
The Bucs, with their youngest lineup ever at their own tournament, were in sixth place after an even-par round of 288. That left them eight shots out of the lead.
“We did some good things,” ETSU coach Fred Warren said. “We lost a couple coming in, but we also picked some up.”
Freshman Chris Hickman did most of the picking up for the Bucs, and for a while he appeared to be going in the wrong direction. Hickman was two over par through 13 holes, but wound up making three birdies coming in — including the final two holes — to shoot 71 and be ETSU’s low man.
The Bucs also got 72s from freshman Adrian Meronk and sophomore Scott Gibson, and 73s from freshman Gudmundur Kristjansson and sophomore Rhys Pugh.
Tennessee and Memphis were tied for the lead at 280, eight under par. Virginia was at 284 back while Wake Forest and Missouri were at 285.
The top two teams also had the co-leaders on the individual scoreboard. Tennessee’s Rick Lamb and Memphis’ Grant Milner both shot five-under-par 67 on the Arthur Hills Course.
The Vols are trying to win this tournament for the fourth time.
“I think it was about time we had a pretty good round,” Tennessee coach Jim Kelson said. “We’ve just kind of played pretty mediocre for our first two tournaments.”
In addition to Lamb’s stellar round, Tennessee got sub-par scores from Mike Nagy (70) and Bristol’s Jay Vandeventer (71) . Thomas Dunne contributed a 72. Only two players in action for the Vols had played in this tournament before.
“I think they know,” Kelson said about his team’s successful history at Blackthorn Club. “They read the record books. They’ve seen the trophies. There is a nice familiarity here, being close to home. We’re two hours away, the weather’s good and the course is great.”
During his team’s victories here, Kelson has always employed an interesting strategy on the quirky par-5 eighth hole. A creek dissects the fairway, and big hitters usually take the rout on the left off the tee. That brings a lake into play on the drive, but offers a more inviting second shot to the green. Kelson has always made his team go right, and it has paid off handsomely.
This year, he gave them the green light to go left.
“It’s different this year,” he said. “It’s soft out there and we have some good ball strikers so we thought we’d try it. When it’s been firm and fast, we’ve always made them do go down the right. This is a little different.”
For one day, at least, it worked just fine. The Vols got two birdies and a bogey to play the hole one under par. For the field, the hole played slightly over par on Friday.
“It’ll be interesting to see for the week how that plays out, to be honest,” Kelson said.
Memphis also got a 68 from Will Pearson, a 72 from Steve Lee and a 73 from Cory Gaylord.
For ETSU, Kristjansson was cruising along at three under par through 13 holes when back-to-back double bogeys erased the momentum he had from making birdies at the eighth, ninth and 10th holes. He eventually birdied the closing hole to post his 73. Meronk, coming off a seventh-place finish in the World Team Amateur, was two over through 12 holes but played the final six in two under par. Pugh’s 73 included 17 consecutive pars before he bogeyed No. 18. Gibson had two birdies and two bogeys in his even-par round.
“Chris showed a lot the way he came back,” Warren said. “This is the third college tournament for three of our guys. Our freshmen shot one under, even and one over. That’s pretty good on this course. You have to give the young guys time. We have a lot of talent. Maybe they’ll get hot the next couple of days, but even if they don’t, they’re doing the right things.”
ETSU had two players competing as individuals. Tom Heggarty shot 72 and Justin Hulbert shot 88.
UNC-Wilmington’s Stefan Brewer made a hole-in-one on the 228-yard par-3 16th hole en route to a 75.