Oct. 1, 2012
CHOUDRANT, La. - Without the benefit of playing a practice round on the course beforehand, Rice junior Jeff Wibawa followed an even-par 72 in the morning with a one-under 71 in the afternoon to lead the Owls' golf team on the opening day of action at the Jim Rivers Intercollegiate tournament Monday afternoon in Choudrant, La.
After Monday's 36-holes Rice is tied for ninth place in the 14-team field with an 18-over par score of 594. The Owls are 16 shots back of tournament leader and Conference USA foe Southern Miss heading into Tuesday's final 18 holes at the 7100-yard, par 72 Squire Creek Golf Course. The Blue & Gray battled back from a 12-over par 300 in the morning round to shoot a six-over 294 in the afternoon - a solid improvement after the team's first round of the tournament was also their first look at the course.
""The rain and mist lingered for two and a half days so that kept us from practicing on Saturday or Sunday," Rice head coach Justin Emil explained. "You never like to play a course blind, but the three guys James Lee, Landon Michelson and Brandon Burke who never played here all contributed. Landon did a great job of overcoming a few bad swings and grinding out two solid rounds. I was proud to see Brandon and James Hiester come back from their first rounds. It was really nice to see Jeff back in stride and giving himself so many birdie opportunities."
Jeff Wibawa did not compete in the Owls' previous tournament last week in Tennessee, but he was anxious to get back in the lineup and compete at a Squire Creek Course where he's no stranger to success. A year ago the Encino, Calif., native tied for 14th overall in the same tournament and he also carded a top 25 finish two years ago as an Owl freshman. The benefit of having played the course, and playing it so well, was on display Monday.
In his first 18 of the day Wibawa rebounded from a pair of early bogeys to card back-to-back birdies on the ninth and tenth holes on the way to a 72. He then tallied four birdies in the afternoon as part of his season-best round of one-under par 71, giving him a steady 143 for the full day. The Owl veteran heads into Tuesday's final round tied for ninth place among an individual field of 75 players. He's five shots off the individual lead Central Arkansas' Pep Angles, who shot a six-under 138.
Junior newcomer Landon Michelson continued his steady contribution to the team effort since joining the Owls from Birmingham Southern College. Michelson improved on his 74 in the morning round with a 73 in afternoon (147, +3). The Miami, Fla., eagled the par-five fifth hole and is tied for 19th in the individual standings.
The Owls' team leader from the first two tournaments of the season, sophomore Joe Beck III, is tied for 48 overall with an 11-over par 155. True freshman James Lee is tied for 53rd with a 158 (+14). Two Owls, Brandon Burke and James Hiester, made their season debuts Monday with some eye-opening improvements after getting the first 18 holes under their belt. Competing as an individual-only, Hiester followed an opening round 88 with a sensational one-over par 73 that tied his career-best round at Rice. He's tied for 63rd overall (161, +17).
Burke is something of a rare student-athlete in that he is participating in Division I athletics for the first time as a senior walk-on. A Houston native and prep golfer while at nearby Episcopal High School, Burke transferred to Rice from Iowa State to continue his study of geophysics. He made the Rice golf team as a walk-on, and then the Owls' travel roster for this event in the team's weekly practice qualifiers. His NCAA golf debut, particularly the second-half, was certainly memorable. Burke shot a 15-over par 87 in the first round, but like Hiester proceeded to make a double-digit improvement in the afternoon. His second career round at the Division I level was an outstanding 73 that counted towards the Owls team-score and was a full 14 strokes better than what he signed-for his first time out.
The belt buckles have the word "Triumph" inscribed on the front to symbolize the strength and hopes for the future of all the children with bone cancer. The inscription also serves as a direct connection to the Triumph Over Kids' Cancer Foundation, which Ragan started.
For coach Emil and the Owls the metaphor is a perfect fit.
"We wore Triumph belt buckles today to help promote James' fight against osteosarcoma," coach Emil said. "The word `triumph' is so powerful that we have made it our motto for the tournament.
"James has so much heart in competition," the head coach added. "In our meetings this week we talked about him and hope that he is doing well while at home with his family and friends."
There are still a final 18 holes to play at Louisiana Tech University's annual fall tournament. Live scoring for the event can be found on-line at the above link when play resumes on Tuesday (Oct. 2) at 8 am Central Time.