Oglethorpe, St. John’s Lead After Opening Round of NCAA Division III Men’s Golf Championships

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Craig Stevenson fired a six-under-par 66 to help Oglethorpe University to a share of first place after Tuesday’s first round of the NCAA Division III Men’s Golf Championships at the Grandover Resort. The senior from Sarasota, Fla., knocked down a round-best seven birdies over his 18 holes and holds a one-stroke lead over Centre College’s Chris Morris in the 205-man field.

Playing the par-72, 6,800-yard West Course, Oglethorpe and St. John’s (Minn.) University both shot 286 to lead the 40-team field. The Johnnies’ Mark Giorgi fired a three-under 69, which shares third place on the individual leaderboard with Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges’ Tain Lee, the defending tournament champion.

St. John’s Casey Vangsness and Dennis Granath and Emory University’s Charles Raindre and Ryan Dagerman headline a group of eight students who shot two-under 70 Tuesday for a share of fifth place. Raindre and Dagerman helped the Eagles turn in a one-over 289, good for third place and two shots ahead of local favorite Greensboro College (291). With the exception of Morris and Lee, the top-three individuals and the top-four teams played the West Course Tuesday.

Texas Lutheran University had the low team score on the par-72, 7,045-yard East Course with a four-over 292. Huntingdon College and Illinois Wesleyan both shot 294 on the West Course and share sixth place, one stroke better than tournament host Guilford College. The Quakers shot 295 on the East Course, thanks in part to junior Dusty Roberts’ one-under 71. Roberts and Greensboro College’s Brock Elder are two of eight students tied for 13th place after 18 holes.

Freshman Richard Kelly of the State University of New York at Farmingdale recorded a hole in one on the par-three 15th hole of the West Course. His shot was one of three eagles for the round over both courses.

The teams will switch courses for Wednesday’s second round. After 36 holes, the low 15 teams (and the low five individuals not part of the low 15 teams) advance to Thursday and Friday’s final rounds on the East Course.

Guilford College and the Greensboro Sports Commission serve as co-hosts of this year’s national championship, which is being held at Grandover for the first time. Methodist University is the defending tournament champion after edging Guilford by one stroke for the 2010 championship in Hershey, Pa.

NCAA Division III Men’s Golf Championships
May 10-13, 2011
Grandover Resort, Greensboro, N.C.

Flash Notes and Quotes – From Tuesday’s first round
First-round leader Craig Stevenson
Oglethorpe’s Craig Stevenson shot a six-under-par 66 on Grandover Resort’s West Course to take the lead after Tuesday’s opening round. His team also provided solid backup support. The Stormy Petrels’ four-man total of 286 was tied for the team lead with Saint John’s University, a Minnesota school.

“I hit lots of greens and lots of fairways,” said Stevenson, a senior from Sarasota, Fla., “what I haven’t been doing all year.”

That’s the secret to the West Course. Anything too far off the fairway tends to be jungle. Only one hole reared and bit Stevenson Tuesday, the par-four 16th. He lost his ball, but managed to sink a 20-foot putt to escape with a bogey.

Stevenson’s 66 was his personal best for the year, but not the team’s finest. His teammate Anthony Amodeo, a freshman from Marietta, Ga., bombed the Paradise Point Course during a tournament at Camp Lejeune (N.C.) this season with a 61. Amodeo contributed mightily Tuesday with a two-under par 70.

Oglethorpe won the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament by 29 shots, which has given them confidence coming into the national tournament.

“We have a game plan and we’re going to stick with it,” Amodeo said.

The team believes Wednesday will bring much of the same, if only on a slightly longer course.

“If I hit it the same tomorrow as I did today,” Stevenson said, “I’ll put up some good numbers.”

First-round co-leader St. John’s University
What a difference 45 to 50 degrees will make. Saint John’s University of Collegeville, Minn., has had to put up with miserable weather throughout its spring season.

“A week ago it was snowing when we were playing,” said Mark Giorgi of Redwing, Minn., a Johnnies’ player who fired a three-under-par 69 on Grandover Resort’s West Course Tuesday. His teammates posted some nice numbers and Saint John’s shares the lead in the 40-team field with a two-under par 286 total.

Giorgi said 45 or 50 degrees with rain or snow was about par for the course back home in Minnesota during the season. He said the team was happy to get to Duke University last weekend for a practice round and a chance to hit some decent shots in some decent weather.

He and his teammates called Grandover’s two courses “great, awesome,” and they aren’t accepting the conventional wisdom that the West Course, which the team played Tuesday, is easier than the East, which the Johnnies will play Wednesday.

“Scoring wise, it’s not going to be that different,” said Giorgi, whose 69 was his season best by one shot.

McDaniel junior Greg Bowman, one of eight individuals tied for fifth after shooting two-under 70
“The putts were definitely falling out there today. I was consistent on the tee, giving myself a chance to make birdies. The round went by so fast in my head that it’s hard to remember the round. The first tee was nerve-wracking, but after that I was ready to play. Tomorrow’s [West] course is a little easier and definitely shorter. I’m looking forward to going out there and hitting some more birdies to help improve our team score.”

Local favorite Greensboro College, holding fourth place after Tuesday’s 291

Don’t make light of Greensboro College’s 291 total – only five shots off the lead – because it was short on the supposedly easier West Course at the 36-hole Grandover Resort, site of this week’s NCAA Division III Men’s Golf Championship.

“All my guys say,” said Pride coach Dirk Finnie, “that they usually play better on the east.”

He said he was a little worried Tuesday when his team began climbing higher over par. He checked his cell phone, which was keyed into the live-scoring statistics. The numbers told him he had better have some on-course conversation with his players.

“Having fun,” said senior Brock Elder as to the secret to his round of 71 (-1). “That is the goal this week – to have fun out here.”

He said he went against the game plan on the first six or so holes. He let his nerves get to him, but settled down and started making some birdies. He said, “I thought to myself, ‘ I’m out at Grandover playing, at home, sleeping in my own bed.’ That put everything in perspective.”

This will be Elder’s last hurrah because he has graduated.

“Yeah, we got to think we can win, but we are not trying to be, pardon the expression, prideful, or anything. It’s a long four-day tournament. The coach says to be patient, but to be confident.”

City rivals Emory University and Oglethorpe University are separated by just three strokes atop the team standings after one round

“Forty schools have come from faraway places, but several here are next-door neighbors and rivals – such as Greensboro and Guilford and Emory and Oglethorpe of Atlanta. The Pride lead the Quakers by four shots after the first round of the NCAA Men’s Division III Championship at Grandover Resort. Smaller Oglethorpe leads Emory by three shots after the first round.
“It’s about 50-50” as to who beats who during the golf season, said David Collura, an Emory sophomore from Atlanta.

Well, it may not be that close. This year Emory won the Georgia Cup, which goes to the Division III school in the state with the best record.

“We had won it 10 straight years,” said Oglethorpe’s Anthony Amodeo.

Tournament host Guilford College, which sits eighth at 295
Guilford coach Corey Maggard said he was pleased with the Quakers’ seven-over-par opening-day showing.

“Anything five- and 10-over keeps us in the hunt,” he said. “It was a solid day for us. We made a lot of pars.”

Dusty Roberts led the Quakers with a one-under par 71. He said he just tried to play solid, “hitting shots to the middle of greens where necessary and firing at pins when appropriate.”

As for being nine shots behind tournament leaders St. John’s (Minn.) and Oglethorpe, Roberts said, “We were 11 behind going into the last round last year and almost made that up.” He referred to the Quakers missing the national title by one shot to Methodist in the 2010 event in Hershey, Pa.

Guilford also has the advantage of playing the West Course at Grandover Resort Wednesday. The players believe it will be one-and-half to two shots easier than the East Course, which they played Tuesday.

Maggard finds himself this week competing against his alma mater, Transylvania College of Lexington, Ky. He served as the Pioneers’ assistant coach for two years before leaving after the 2010 season to take Guilford’s head coaching job.

“I’m happy to see them (here),” he said. “I wish them a close second-place come Friday.”

Claremont-Mudd-Scripps junior Tain Lee, who shares third place after Tuesday’s round

Tain Lee, who won the NCAA Men’s Division III individual title in 2010 at Hershey, Pa., showed moving the tournament 300 or so miles south this year didn’t harm his game.

He shot a three-under par 69 Tuesday on Grandover Resort’s East Course, considered more difficult than the shorter West Court, which Lee will play Wednesday.

“I got off to a good start,” he said, after knocking knuckles with Bim Jollymour, his coach at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in Claremont, Calif., at the 18th green after Lee birdied the par-5. “I didn’t feel like I made a mistake on the front nine.”

After shooting a 32 on the front nine, the San Juan Capristrano, Calif., resident chipped close for his birdie on 18.

The only bummer about the round was an absence of teammates to congratulate him at the end. Lee is playing here as one of five at-large individual selections. For the second straight year, his team failed to receive an invitation into the 40-team field.

Lee said he feels a little pressure being defending champion, but make no mistake, “It’s nice to be defending champion. I’m not complaining.”

He’s a junior and says his coach, a good student, an economics major at one of the nation’s most prestigious private colleges.

He’ll have job options when he graduates, but he also might want to try professional golf.

“He may take a crack at it,” Jollymour says, “but he may want to stay amateur.”

His coach called Grandover’s East “a wonderful course,” with Lee calling it challenging layout that can get you in trouble if you don’t know what you’re doing.

He played in one of Tuesday’s first groups and finished early, but didn’t have the rest of the day off. He was heading back to the hotel room to crack the books.

“I have a take-home exam,” he said, “due Thursday,”

On the Tuesday’s fair weather (sunny skies with temperatures in the upper 70s)
“We’re glad not to have to clean and place anymore, play in 45-degree weather and in the rain. It has been that way all year,” said Wittenberg coach Jeff Roope, whose school is in Springfield, Ohio.