MILTON, Ga. -- The Ball State men’s golf team found itself atop the leaderboard early Tuesday, dropped some shots down the stretch but still finished day one of the NCAA Championships ahead of five teams ranked in the top 20 in the country.
The Cardinals, playing in the morning wave with half the teams in the field, were in first place at 5-under par near the turn at the Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course.
After the conclusion of the challenging back nine, they had posted a 10-over par total of 290 for their best ever NCAA Championships round in their first appearance at the finals since 1986.
Ball State was in 28th place when it came off the course but moved up to 24th as the top 15 seeds, playing in the afternoon wave, made their way around the par-70, 7,319-yard layout.
By the day’s end, the Cardinals were ahead of No. 6-ranked New Mexico, No. 10 TCU, No. 11 Florida, No. 12 Southern California and No. 19 Auburn.
“We hung in there,” Ball State coach Mike Fleck said. “We couldn’t have asked for a better start, and then the golf course kind of changed as our round went on. We gave some shots away on the back nine, but we’re still going to be in the mix going into the next two days.”
Tony Lazzara shot Ball State to the top early Tuesday with birdies on three of his first five holes. A pair of consecutive birdies to start his back nine had Lazzara to 4-under and among the top 5 individually. He finished his day at even-par 70, matching the best ever round by a Cardinal at the NCAA finals, and sits in a tie for 34th place.
Alex Stinson, who recorded 15 pars on the day, and Tyler Merkel each posted rounds of 2-over par 72 and find themselves in a tie for 66th. Joe Gasser turned in a round of 76 as Ball State’s fourth counting score, while McCormick Clouser had a solid round going until the tough final three-hole stretch left him with a 77.
“When we were playing in the morning, it was calm, the conditions were softer, and the holes were a little bit easier,” Fleck said. “On the back nine, the holes were a little bit tougher, the wind picked up, and everything started to firm up a little bit. The golf course was definitely getting harder as the day went on.”
Arizona State freshman Jon Rahm turned in the round of the day Tuesday with what is believed to be a competitive course-record 61. He led the Sun Devils to a round of 10-under par, which was the top score on day one. Arizona State is followed on the team leaderboard by Georgia Tech (-6), Alabama (-5), Illinois (-4) and California (-3).
Ball State will play in the afternoon wave for Wednesday’s second round with tee times starting at 2 p.m. off the 10th tee. The Cardinals will again play with Texas Tech and Coastal Carolina.There are two rounds of stroke play remaining before the field will be cut to eight teams for match play. Ball State will enter the second round 11 shots out of eighth place.