FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas men’s golf team was confident playing on its home course was an enormous advantage as it aimed for an NCAA regional title.
The first round of competition at The Blessings didn’t provide the type of challenge the Razorbacks’ anticipated for their competitors, though. And it left second-seeded Arkansas in an early hole as it prepares for today’s second round.
Arkansas carded a two-over par 290 during the first-day of competition at the 14-team regional. The score was good enough for fifth place for a team that left the course feeling disappointed it wasn’t on top of the leader board. But it also was a team that felt a little fortunate about its position after getting off to a rough start.
“It was a roller coaster,” Arkansas coach Brad McMakin said. “It was up and down. … I’m really glad the guys hung in there and got in the house at two over because at one point it wasn’t looking that great. They did a great job on the back nine.”
The Razorbacks thought The Blessings — a par 72 course — would provide plenty of headaches for teams who hadn’t seen it before as the regional began. But one element that makes it difficult to play — the wind — wasn’t a factor Thursday.
So teams like Illinois (6-under), Texas (3-under), Oklahoma State (2-under) and Kent State (even) enjoyed solid opening rounds. Arkansas, meanwhile, seemed to feel some pressure as host by turning in a rocky performance on the front nine.
“I know for me I had a little bit of nerves the first couple holes,” Arkansas freshman Taylor Moore said. “I think it was tied with everybody being out here and being on our home course. Putting a little bit too much pressure on ourselves. But at the end of the day it’s still a golf tournament. Still got to go out there and hit golf shots.”
Arkansas — which was in 12th place at one point — did rebound on the back nine.
Cappelen and Thomas Sorensen led the way, shooting one-under par on the back nine. The key hole for the entire team came on the par-5 No. 16, where four Razorbacks birdied and senior Austin Cook scored an eagle.
“That was much needed,” Cook said of his eagle. “I told myself on the tee box that if I can just get it down there and give myself a chance for eagle or a shot into the green that I’d have a good opportunity because that pin is real accessible.”
Cook, Cappelen and Moore are tied for 11th after shooting even par. Charlie Danielson was key to Illinois’ strong start, leading the field at 7-under par.
“The scoring conditions were very good and we took advantage of those,” Illinois coach Mike Small said. “But leading does you nothing after (Thursday). We’re here to win the tournament. We’re not here to finish fifth. You can’t win it the first day.”
Moore said Arkansas understands that as well, but is a little “disappointed” after struggling through much of its opening round. But the sluggish start hasn’t shaken the Razorbacks’ belief they can win the program’s first regional since 1991.
“The results of round one don’t really affect our confidence on this course because we play it so much,” Cook said. “It’s our home course. I think all of our guys are very confident on this course and very comfortable on this course.”
The second round of the three-day tournament will begin this morning.
“Obviously, I’d like to be leading,” McMakin said. “But we’ve been a slow starter all year long and we really put ourselves in bad spots (Thursday).
“So after what I saw (Thursday), I’ll take where we are right now.”