North Carolina State golf coach Richard Sykes had a message for his team before the first round of the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate.
“I told them you were all recruited as good players,” Sykes said. “Let’s just do what you were recruited for.”
The Wolfpack responded in a big way Friday at Blackthorn Club at the Ridges, breaking par on a blustery day that made scoring extremely difficult.
N.C. State put together a team total of 287, one under par. That was good enough for an eight-stroke lead over defending champion Virginia.
“That was very satisfactory,” Sykes said. “We haven’t played that well this fall. We’ve been making a lot of big scores. We’ve been trying shots we think we’re good at but we ain’t quite good at. Maybe we played a little more within ourselves today.”
N.C. State’s Mark McMillen overcame the 25-mph wind to shoot a 68, one of the best rounds ever in the tournament considering the conditions. He had a two-shot lead on the individual leaderboard over Toledo’s Chris Selfridge, whose 70 included only one bogey. Just four of 82 players broke par and the field’s average score was 76.89.
Missouri’s Jace Long and Virginia’s Dennny McCarthy both shot 71 to share third place.
McMillen had six birdies, and his two bogeys came on the two holes playing most difficult on Friday, the par-four 17th and ninth.
“At times it felt like it was blowing 40 miles an hour,” said McMillen, a senior looking for his first collegiate victory. “I played a good round. I hit the ball pretty well and putted it better than average.
“In the wind, I was trying to stay away from big numbers and keep the ball in play.”
The field played the back nine first and finished on the difficult par-4 ninth which was playing into the wind.
McMillen chose to lay up on his second shot on No. 9 rather than go for a green guarded by a creek on the left from 220 yards out. When he made bogey to finish, he wasn’t disappointed.
“That’s probably gonna tie a lot of the field,” he said.
The average score on the ninth hole was 4.94, so he didn’t lose anything there.
“With the the conditions, this is one of my better rounds,” said McMillen, won won the 2009 North Carolina Amateur.
Missouri and UNC-Wilmington were tied for third at 296. Three-time champion Tennessee and Memphis were tied for fifth at 298.
Host school East Tennessee State didn’t handle the conditions well, shooting 25 over par (313) to tie for 13th in the 15 team field with 10th-ranked Clemson and Army. It was the Bucs’ worst score in 40 rounds in the 14-year history of this tournament.
Senior Rhys Enoch and freshman Rhys Pugh both shot 76 and were the only ETSU players to break 80.
N.C. State was helped by a 72 from All-American Albin Choi. The Wolfpack was missing No. 1 player, Mitchell Sutton, who is out for the rest of the fall with a wrist injury suffered a week and a half ago.
“We have to pull together,” Sykes said. “Obviously, we’re gonna try to do our best. If our guys can keep the same theory and play the shots we know we how to play, we’ll be OK.”
The second round of the 54-hole tournament begins this morning. The final round is set for Sunday.