Rhys Pugh summed it up best.
“It’s a perfect start,” Pugh said Friday after the first round of the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate at Blackthorn Club.
Pugh was speaking for himself and his team. The ETSU junior golfer seized the individual lead with a flawless six-under-par 66 and propelled the Bucs into first place with one of the best single-day team scores in tournament history.
ETSU shot 11-under-par 277, marking the fourth-lowest round in the 16-year history of the tournament. The Bucs will take a seven-stroke lead over Virginia Tech into today’s second round.
“The weather was perfect and the guys came out and played really well,” ETSU coach Fred Warren said. “We got off to a good start. I was encouraged. They’re doing some good things. It’s good to be leading. Obviously, there’s two more days, but it’s a good start.”
Virginia Tech shot four-under-par 284 and was one shot ahead of Kent State and Coastal Carolina. Four of the 14 teams in the field managed to break par.
Memphis and UNC-Wilmington were at even par, while Tennessee and Wake Forest were two over. Defending champion Missouri was seven over.
In addition to Pugh’s stellar round, ETSU, sophomore Adrian Meronk posted a 69, while freshmen Mateusz Gradecki had a 70 and sophomore Gudmundur Kristjansson had a 72. Chris Hickman’s 76 was the score the Bucs threw out.
Three players -- Wake Forest’s Thomas Birdsey, Furman’s Bryce Howell and Virginia Tech’s Scott Vincent -- were one shot behind Pugh after shooting 67s. Kent State’s Ryan Troyer, playing as an individual, shot 68.
Pugh made the turn in one under par. His only hiccup of the day was a three-putt for par on the par-five fourth hole. He got hot on the back, making birdies at the 10th and 12th holes before chipping in for eagle at the par-five 14th. He added a solid sand save at the 16th and another birdie on No. 17.
“On the back nine, I got it going,” said Pugh, who played in the British Open in July. “That was good. I just want to keep doing what I’m doing, stay patient and take it one shot at a time.
“ETSU has never won it in 16 years. We want to be the first ones to do it. You can’t win on the first day, but it’s a good start.”
Pugh, the former European Amateur champion who played in his second Walker Cup last month, has posted scores in the 60s in three of his last four competitive rounds.
“Rhys is a good player,” Warren said. “He’s a very talented. I’m pleased to see that. I’m glad to see him doing some really good things. He’s going to accomplish a lot of good things in college, in golf and in life.”
Meronk had only one bogey to go with his four birdies, but one of his pars was probably the most interesting hole of the day. At the par-five 10th, his second shot landed left of the green and hit a cart path. It bounced over a patch of tall rough and hit another cart path.
The ball wound up on the next tee, some 30 yards behind the green. facing a difficult shot with a creek past the cup, he pitched short, onto the fringe. He struck his downhill birdie putt too hard, sending the ball far past the hole. He then drained a 20-foot putt for par to keep his momentum.
Gradecki overcame a double-bogey at the par-three seventh and an earlier three-putt with five birdies.
“Adrian and Mateusz really did some good things,” Warren said. “Adrian was our low man at the last tournament and Mateusz made those five birdies. He’s a grinder, but he’s very talented too.
“It would be great if we can continue this tomorrow."