The Blazers fell into the “Bear Trap” this week at PGA National, and despite improvement in the final round Tuesday, were unable to crawl back into contention.
VSU played that stretch of holes 15-17 at 25 over par, significant considering that’s just three holes, and that the tournament’s winner No. 4 Saint Leo posted a 22 over par total in this NSU Shark Invitational.
“Hit too many poor shots. Missed our targets quite often,” Coach Jared Purvis said in regards to the players’ performance on these holes.
After round one, the Blazers found themselves in 7th with Freshman Gage Smith and Junior Jordan Long turning in a pair of three over 75s. Unfortunately, the team regressed in round two with a 37 over total.
In the final round on Tuesday, the Blazers posted a 23 over par score, a single shot better than what they posted in the first round that began Monday morning.
However, by that point, the hole was just too big for them to climb out of, and the Blazers finished in 16th place in a 16 team field.
“There wasn’t any particular thing that contributed to the bad performance this week,” Senior Matt Anderson said. “Everyone just struggled as a whole. We were all focused and ready to play, just didn’t end up being our week.”
Apart from the round one scores posted by Long and Gage Smith, one of the bright spots came in the form of Freshman Brock Healy, who, during his third round, had a streak of 14 consecutive pars, starting on 15, the first hole in “The Bear Trap,” that continued on until a bogey on hole 11 (he started his round on hole 13).
Healy said that the key to his consistency during that stretch was his putting.
“I made a lot of four to five footers for par,” Healy said. “Overall, short game saved my round.”
For the Blazers, no one played “The Bear Trap” better than Healy, who played these holes at just one over par for the week.
“I just made sure I had enough club to not hit in the water,” Healy said. “I aimed away from the water, and I benefitted.”
Anderson finished as the low Blazer for the second time in as many tournaments. He was tied for 43rd at 19 over par.
He played well at times, but according to the man himself, he “made some big numbers that took me out of the rounds early and put me behind all day.”
One of those big numbers, coming in Monday’s first round, was an eight on the par 4 13th. He made a seven on the par 4 11th in the second round and a six on the course’s par 4 first hole on Tuesday.
For the tournament, Healy finished just one shot behind Anderson at 20 over par. He did this despite shooting a 10 over 82 in the opening round.
Long came in third for the Blazers, a tie for 60th overall, at 23 over par. Back-to-back triples on 16 and 17 in round two and his own quadruple bogey on the challenging 13th on Tuesday were crushing blows to his otherwise respectable scorecard.
And although he was only one back of Long individually, Smith finished in a tie for 65th. After that opening 75, the freshman had scores of 87 and 78.
Freshman Davis Smith went 82-89-79. During the course of that second round, Smith had a stretch where he tripled 11 and bogeyed the next two holes. Later in the day, he made a triple on the par 4 second and a quad on the par 5 sixth.
The Champion course, described as difficult before they teed off, more than lived up to the hype. The conditions didn’t help the cause.
“Conditions on the course were brutal,” Healy said. “Greens slow, tricky tee shots, winds at 25-30 miles per hour. By far the hardest conditions I’ve ever played in.”
Many of the holes played into the wind, and “The Bear Trap” played into the wind in each of the three rounds, according to Anderson.
The greens were also new from the course’s recent renovation, making them quite firm, so it was hard for the players to stop the ball, particularly in the case of a down wind.
Throw in the water hazards, well-placed bunkers, and the shot-making demand of the golf course that already exists, regardless of the conditions, and you have a tremendously challenging place to play.
Heading into the event, Purvis said that the par 5s would be “critical.” The Blazers were tied for 14th, second to last in the field, in par 5 scoring this week at 15 over par.
The Blazers’ reason for lack of success in this category drew a short and simple response from their coach: “Poor execution.”
What does the team need to improve on following this result?
“Everything after this week,” according to Purvis.
The VSU lineup may see a change if someone else on the roster earns a spot via qualifying.
Keiser University’s Benjamin Bailey won the event as an individual, finishing as the lone player in red numbers at one under par. He began the final round two shots off the lead at two over, before firing a three under 69, his second such score in a row after posting an opening round 77.
After the first two rounds on Monday, Saint Leo had an eight shot lead over No. 6 Florida Tech with three of their players occupying the top three spots on the individual leaderboard. Those players were unable to maintain those spots, but top finisher Oliver Lilliedahl finished in a tie for second at one over par; Alberto Castagnara and Simon Knutsson each tied for fourth at two over par.
Saint Leo ended up winning the NSU Shark Invitational by six shots over Florida Tech, who turned in a 28 over par total.
Anderson doesn’t believe that the team needs to make any particular adjustments before taking on Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course, home of “The Snake Pit” and the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship, next week.
“We just need to shake off this week and get back to the golf we’ve been playing before this tournament,” Anderson said.
Written by Bryant Roche, Staff Writer. Photo Courtesy of VSU Athletics.
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