But right behind the Sun Devils was Georgia Tech with a 6-under-par 274 that had Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler more than a little pleased.
Factor in that the majority of the Yellow Jackets’ players on the course hail from the surrounding area, and the coach has more than a few reasons to look forward to the next few days.
“For all five of them, their first effort out here it was really positive,” Heppler said. “I don’t think it is as well as we could have shot, but we hit it really, really well.”
Georgia Tech made a push for Arizona State’s lead late in the round before falling back a few strokes at the end.
Ollie Schniederjans led Georgia Tech with a 3-under 67 on the 7,319-yard course along the Fulton and Cherokee county lines. Close behind were former Etowah High School standout Anders Albertson, Shun Yat Hak and Seth Reeves — all at 69. Bo Andrews trailed with a 78, but only the top four scores count toward a team’s total.
Heppler said his players are benefiting from playing close to home. The team is familiar with the course, playing several matches there over the course of the season.
“I think there has to be some form of comfort knowing what was waiting out here for them because we have played her so often,” Heppler said. “I think they were as relaxed as five first-timers can ever be.”
No one is expecting much out of the Yellow Jackets with California as the clear favorite entering the tournament. The Golden Bears won 11 of 13 tournaments this season, a modern-era NCAA record.
That, however, might work in Georgia Tech’s favor.
“There is nobody picking us,” Heppler said. “There is nobody thinking that we are going to win, so there are no expectations on these guys that I don’t think they are OK with. I think their (expectations) are all larger than anybody else.”
After a strong opening round, Georgia Tech will have a chance to make a statement today. After teeing off in the afternoon Tuesday, the players will take to the course as early as 7:50 a.m. today, when conditions are more favorable.
Arizona State’s Jon Rahm led all players Tuesday with a 9-under 61 in his morning round, a personal best for him and believed to have been a Crabapple course record.
“I shot a 64 in the fall at Pumpkin Ridge in the Pac-12 Preview,” the freshman said. “I honestly feel like I’ve never played better than that. I didn’t play as good as that (Tuesday), but my putting was probably the best I’ve ever putted in my life.”
Arizona State coach Tim Mickelson said Rahm’s strongest suit is his ability to adapt.
“He’s an excellent freshman,” said Mickelson, younger brother of three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson. “This is a course that suits him well because he its extremely long, he hits it extremely straight, and he’s a hell of a good putter, so it sets up very well for him.”
Heppler didn’t want to take away anything away from Rahm’s performance, but the conditions for him were favorable early. With early tee times today, Heppler thinks that one of his players can be capable of putting up a similar number.
“I think, what’s required out here, we can do,” Heppler said. “I think we’ve got five guys who can really hit it, and these longer holes, I think we can play them.”
After Arizona State and Georgia Tech on the leaderboard were Alabama (275), Illinois (276) and California (277). Georgia (286) was tied for four other teams in 14th.
The top eight teams following the 54 holes of stroke play will move on to three days of match play beginning Friday.
Individually, Rahm was followed by Oklahoma’s Abraham Ancer (65), California’s Brandon Hagy (66) and four others at 67 — Schniederjans, Oklahoma State teammates Ian Davis and Talor Gooch and Alabama’s Justin Thomas.
The Oklahoma and Oklahoma State golfers were wearing blue ribbons on their hats for the victims of last week’s tornadoes outside Oklahoma City.
LSU’s Zach Wright was another stroke back, one of 12 at 68, but his round was highlighted by a hole-in-one on the 220-yard par-3 15th hole.
“I saw it land on the front side of the green and it just rolled in,” Wright said. “It was great as I was able to see it go in. That was my third hole-in-one, two in tournaments and one just out playing.”