Stillwater, Okla. — Even at the highest level of college golf, not many can pull off what freshman Harry Hillier did to finish his steamy, long day in the sun Saturday at unforgiving Karsten Creek in the NCAA championship.
Hillier crushed a drive and stuck a 4-iron to 6 feet on the 575-yard 18th hole, which runs alongside Lake Louise.
He made the putt for an eagle.
And shot 81.
“Kind of like making a 3 at the buzzer when you’re down four, isn’t it?” sixth-year Kansas coach Jamie Bermel said. “Didn’t really matter. That’s about the way our day went too.”
Only the four best scores count toward the team total each day, so the eagle didn't affect KU's score.
When the Jayhawks walked off the course, they were in dead last, 21 over par, in the field of 30 schools. By the time the whole field was in, Kansas had moved to 29th, two strokes ahead of Augusta. KU and Augusta tee off last Sunday at 1:50 p.m.
Friday’s rain delay forced KU to play one-and-a-half rounds Saturday. The players started teeing off at 7 a.m. after finishing past 8:30 p.m. Friday.
The difficulty of the course, the short turnaround, the searing heat and the enormity of the stage combined to make this not just another Saturday on the golf course for the Jayhawks.
So far, KU’s two seniors have handled it the best. Daniel Sutton, the team’s straightest driver, has shot 71-73 to enter Sunday’s round at even par. Daniel Hudson shot 76-72 and is 4 over, battling back from a triple-bogey 7 on his first hole of the tournament, No. 10 on Friday.
Sophomore Andy Spencer (72-78) is 6 over. Harry Hillier (76-81) is 13 over, junior Charlie Hillier 82-79) 17 over.
After Sunday’s round, the field will be trimmed to 15 schools and the eight best of those after Monday will advance to match play.
Do you believe in miracles?
KU has so much ground left to make up, which in many instances would mean taking more chances is the way to go, but Karsten Creek counterpunches so viciously that might not be wise.
“I just don’t know if you can be real aggressive out here because you’re going to get punched in the nose if you get overly aggressive,” Kansas coach Jamie Bermel said. “The holes where we made big numbers on, a lot of the guys hit 3-woods and couldn’t keep it in play. That part of it we just have to get better at. A lot of courses we play you can hit a driver and if it goes wayward you can still find it. Not out here.”
Sutton, who came to KU from Birmingham, England, wants to go out in style.
“For me and Hud, potentially it can be our last round of college golf,” Sutton said. “We’re going to give it our all.”
Sutton has no ambivalence about the approach with the team so far behind.
“Same as always,” he said. “We’re going to keep it in the fairway. If the putts start to fall and and a bunch of us start making birdies, you never know what can happen. We just need to stick to the game plan of hitting it in the fairway, post a respectable score and see where that leaves us.”
Kansas is one of seven Big 12 schools competing. Texas Tech (-5), Oklahoma State (-4) hold the top two spots on the leaderboard. Oklahoma (+2) is tied for fourth. Texas (+4) is tied for ninth, and Iowa State (+16) is tied for 23rd. Baylor (+21) is just two strokes ahead of Kansas.
Hudson did a nice job of capturing what makes Karsten Creek such a difficult challenge to negotiate.
“You can hit good shots off the tee and you have to aim to where the wind’s going to push the ball to the fat part of the fairway,” Hudson said. “And that’s if you’re comfortable over the shot. But if you don’t feel like you have a consistent flight off the tee, you’re standing up there on a hole that’s 40 yards wide and if you don’t hit it in that 40-yard gap, you’re re-teeing.”
KU’s second round was marred by four triple-bogeys and two doubles.