I got on Baytree Road, continuing to drive, taking a left on Melody Lane, another at St. Augustine, making a the turn at West Hill Avenue.
From there, I stayed on Highway 84 some six and a half to seven miles, eventually completing a 17 minute drive to Kinderlou Forest Golf Club, where the Blazers moved in all sorts of directions on the leader board before a chance at securing a place in postseason play slipped out of the team’s grasp.
It began at 8:21 Sunday morning with three individuals, two of them from VSU in Wesley Hanson and Thomas Jespersen.
Before any player hit a single shot, however, they were greeted by the starter, a slim senior, who on that day wore a black jacket over a blue shirt, khakis, a pair of brown dress shoes, and his signature sun hat whose wide brim prevented any bright light from interfering with his plane of vision.
After Dave introduced each player before their first shot, he gave them a friendly word of encouragement as they left the tee box and went on their way.
“Play well, gentleman,” Dave said.
Nobody played better for VSU in Day One than Senior Matt Anderson, who, in his last tournament showing at the ‘Lou, made three birdies, eagled the par 5 11th, and only bogeyed once in the process of shooting a 4-under 68, putting him in a tie for 2nd.
On the 11th, Anderson’s ball lay 275 yards out, where he hit a 3-wood unto the green. After landing, the ball funneled back toward the hole, and the senior made an 11 footer to make a 3.
Playing as an individual, Hanson knew that his score wouldn’t count toward the team’s total, but came out early with a score that set the standard for those who came after him that day.
“I just wanted to go out there and have fun,” Hanson said. “I’ve been playing well the last couple weeks, and so I knew if I just went out here, didn’t put too much pressure on myself or anything, just had a good time, that scores would follow.”
What followed for Hanson were three birdies on the front nine coming on holes 4, 6, and 7. On 6, the sophomore made an uphill 10 footer “that was fine, that was cool,” but it was on the next one where another putt that broke left to right, this time a 15-foot downhill putt that he described as a “really nice, really good momentum shifter.”
“I was just hitting quality shots and putting a good role on the ball, and they were going in,” Hanson said regarding that four hole stretch where he made three birdies. “That’s golf sometimes. You know, you can hit a lot of good putts, and they just might not go in, but in that stretch, I was hitting good putts, and they were falling.”
Hanson went on to birdie the par 5 14th, before making a double bogey on the difficult dogleg 16th to turn in a 2 under par 70 for the opening round.
Brock Healy’s first round contained four bogeys and a double later in the day at 15.
However, he also made five birdies, putting him at 1 over and a tie for 23rd.
The first round for Junior Jordan Long didn’t feature quite as many shapes on his scorecard, particularly on the front, where he made nine straight pars.
“I was hitting it good,” Long said. “I just, on holes 3 and 4, had two good looks at birdie and didn’t get any of them to go, but other than that, I hit some solid shots, just sometimes you hit it good and it doesn’t go in.”
For Long, this could serve as a description for the round in its entirety. On the back, he had several chances to cash in, but at the same time, made pars where others weren’t, playing the challenging finishing four at even par.
“I was glad that I finished strong,” Long said coming off 18 green Sunday. “I mean, I was hitting it good all day. I was just glad to keep it going, and that’s good momentum going into tomorrow, playing these holes well.”
The day for Davis Smith began with a tee shot that placed him in the right rough about two-thirds the distance between that first and second bunker, but his ball sat up fairly nicely for him just 173 yards away from the pin. From there, he hit a soft 6-iron that curled its way unto the front left part of the green.
Unfortunately for the freshman, a three putt became the first of three bogeys on the first four holes.
“I just put the ball where you can’t put it in the first three holes,” Smith said. “I missed the green on 2 with a wedge, but I got up-and-down, made par, but 3 I hit it left, short sided, can’t hit it there…just didn’t put the ball in the hole like I should’ve.”
One of the highlights of the round for the lanky freshman came on the par 3 5th, where he struck one to just foot away from the hole. The pin being in the back of the green, it was positioned 203 yards away, giving him some room to work with short of it.
With a wind that was working down and to the left, Smith “just took a 6-iron and aimed it out about five to 10 yards right and just kind of let it ride the wind. It took a bounce about 10 feet and just trickled out close to the hole.”
That short birdie putt put him at two over for the day, but bogeys on 6, 10, and on the par 5 11th resulted in a 5 over total.
His roommate posted the same score, and on Hole 2 had a near-eagle of his own.
“I hit the fairway on the left side, and I had about I’ll say 265, hit a hybrid downhill, downwind just short and got up-and-down, hit the pin for eagle, almost went in.”
On 6 and 7, Smith hit two “terrible” wedge shots and made bogey on both of them. On 12, he flew the green and found himself deep in the rough, where a bump-and-run got him to the fringe, but he was unable to save par from there and ended up making a double bogey.
Following a bogey on 17, the lefty hit his tee shot in the left trees, resulting in another bogey to conclude the round.
If Round 1 were described as a day that gave the Blazers a chance, the second could be assessed as one that placed them in the thick of things.
But before Hanson and Jespersen could go off early Monday morning, the thick fog pushed play back by a little over 30 minutes.
“It’s mother nature, just part of the sport, can’t control it…no biggie,” Coach Jared Purvis said.
Despite the delay, the Blazers got off to a strong start in Round 2.
Anderson played the front at 3 under, Healy and Gage Smith played the first seven holes at 2 under, and both Jordan Long and Davis Smith played those seven at even par.
In the process, the Blazers quickly ascended to 3rd and eventually reached the top of the leader board.
“No, I had no idea, but I kind of thought if we got off to a good start we may catch up very quickly, but I also knew that the final group got to play the same stretch of holes as us, so they were probably going to make birdies there, too,” Gage Smith said on being unaware of the team’s position that day.
The other teams did get their chance to play those same holes, with 2, 5, 6, and 7 providing birdie opportunities.
Once the field made its way through, VSU teetered off to a tie for 5th, but what they displayed was that they belonged with the nation’s best, if only for a day.
“Played better than we did yesterday. We still left a few shots out there, but overall played very solid,” Purvis said.
The Smiths both had six stroke swings between Rounds 1 and 2, making the most amount of improvement for the home team.
“Ball striking was a WHOLE lot better, and I made more putts, and it was just a lot easier and better round for me today than it was yesterday,” Davis said.
Smith made birdie instead of bogey on 1, beginning the day by hitting a nice drive to the left side of the fairway. From 135 out, he hit a pitching wedge to the middle of the green about eight feet away from that left pin location, where he made a putt that broke about a ball left to right.
A theme for Smith on the day was his knack for bouncing back after bogeys.
After a bogey on 2, he made birdie of 5.
After a bogey on 7, he made a birdie on 9, doing the same thing for holes 10 and 14 and 16 and 18.
“It felt good to make the birdies,” Smith said after the round. “It was aggravating to make the bogey the hole or two holes after it every time, but it felt good knowing my ball striking was good today, putting was good, knowing that if I keep giving myself opportunities I’ll make a couple birdies here and there.”
While Gage’s scorecard featured six birdies, he believes his second most at the Valdosta venue, he also made five bogeys, with four of them coming on the back side.
For Smith, a mere gander at his card didn’t reflect it, but his goal for that day was to keep his emotions from getting too high or too low.
He felt like he did that well.
“I just tried to keep a steady head,” Smith said. “And it just so happened that’s the way it turned out.”
“The bogeys on 8 and 10, I can live with those; I hit good putts. But the bogey on 12, that one kind of stung, but other than that, I feel like it was pretty solid.”
Anderson played the steadiest of the bunch, following his three birdies on the front with nine pars on the back, his 69 putting him just five shots behind leader Juan Jose Guerra of Nova Southeastern.
Healy made a two shot improvement on Monday with three birdies and just two bogeys.
On his favorite hole at Kinderlou, the 364-yard par 4 7th, the freshman made one those birdies. Hitting his drive to about 65 yards in, he played a 70 percent 60 degree wedge from the rough just before the bunkers in the fairway that landed just short and rolled up to about 15 feet away from the pin and made the putt.
On the par 5 14th, he reached the green in two, but left his eagle attempt just short, making a tap-in birdie.
Long had back-to-back bogeys on 8 and 9. He responded with a par on 10 and capitalized with a birdie on 11, but with a bogey on the par 4 13th and three in a row to end the round, he finished with a 5 over 77.
Hanson was 2 under for the day and 4 under for the tournament through 12 holes on Monday, but he made four consecutive bogeys on holes 14 through 17 to finish at even heading into the final round.
Also playing as an individual, Jespersen didn’t improve in round 2, either. He posted a 75 on Sunday, but turned in a 78 in round 2, the most noticeable difference coming on holes 14-16, where he went 1 under on the first day, but played them 5 over on the second.
The Blazers entered the final round in 5th place, with No. 2 ranked Lynn tied with them and No. 5 Florida Southern, No. 6 Florida Tech, No. 15 St. Leo, and No. 19 Limestone were all behind them.
With a win over Rollins, a postseason berth would have been locked.
On Tuesday, Kinderlou got tougher, and they didn’t take advantage of a great opportunity.
Anderson made par on the first four holes, but ended up going double bogey-bogey-birdie-bogey on 5-8 on his way to posting a 76, his only round not in red numbers. He dropped to 9th place, but all things considered, performed well this week in his last event in front of the home crowd.
“It was amazing to get to play at home for four years,” Anderson said. “We always have great support, and I’m thankful for everyone that helps out with the tournament.”
In terms of his final round, Anderson said that the course played at its toughest on the last day due to a change in the wind direction.
“I hit a couple solid shots that that ended up in bad position due to misjudging the wind,” Anderson said.
Including the individuals, Healy was the only Blazer who managed to break 75. He was 2 under through 4 holes on Tuesday, 3 under through 15, but his bogeys on 16 and 17, while both difficult holes, points to VSU’s good playing at times but also their inability to quite get it done this week.
Adding it all up, Healy finished at 215 strokes,15th place, and 1 under par for the event.
Gage Smith finished at 50th with a score of 8 over par.
With a 78, Davis Smith fell from 48th to 64th.
Long matched his second round score on Tuesday. For the week, the junior played holes 16 through 18 at 6 over, which was the same for the other 45 holes he played.
Hanson shot a 75 to finish in 33rd at 3 over.
Jespersen shot a 77 to go to 14 over and 77th place for the event.
As a team VSU came in 9th at 10 over par. The top team they beat was Florida Southern, who finished at 22 over.
Despite the disappointing final round, Davis Smith remains optimistic about the rest of the season.
“We are still in a good spot for the postseason,” Smith said. “We need to play these last two tournaments well, and we will be fine.”
Still, these next upcoming events will be that much more important.
“We had our chances today and didn’t take advantage,” Smith added. “These next two tournaments are crucial.”
Juan Jose Guerra of Nova Southeastern was the only player to post three rounds in the 60s, going 67-65-67 to win by eight over Rollins’ Morgan Egloff.
Written by Bryant Roche, Staff Writer. Photo courtesy for VSU Athletics.
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