Despite strong round from Brown, Owls struggle at River Landing
No matter the course or the competition, the golf team seems unable to climb out from the bottom of the board. Rice's disappointing spring season continued with a low finish at the River Landing Intercollegiate this week. Despite the poor team performance, junior Chris Brown provided a semblance of achievement, as his performance at River Landing now has him in the Rice golf record book with the lowest career scoring average and most rounds shooting par or under.
The Owls must quickly forget about their past week as they head to the Conference USA Tournament in Sorrento, Fla. Taking place at the Red Tail Golf Club, the conference tournament remains as the Owls' only way of getting to the NCAA Tournament. The top team and top individual performer at the C-USA Tournament advance to the NCAA Regionals in Bowling Green, Ky. The three-day conference tournament event, hosted by the University of Central Florida, begins on April 19 and concludes on April 21.
Rice got off to a poor start at the River Landing Country Club, posting a 299 (+11) in the first round of play. The Owls' score dropped them into a tie for last place with the University of Kansas, who eventually finished in last place. Senior captain Kyle Kelley led the Owls, shooting an even-par 72.
While the setup of River Landing meant that low scores were attainable, the Owls once again faced windy conditions that frustrated some team members, including sophomore Robert Burrow.
"The wind provided the biggest challenge at [River Landing]," Burrow said. "The conditions meant that we felt the course would be scoreable. However, strong gusts forced us to play defensively at time."
The Owls shot collectively worse in the second round of play, as their score of 303 (+15) put them in 13th place. Kelley once again shot the low round for the Owls, as his 73 (+1) gave him a two-round score of 145 (+1). Kelley's third-round score left him in a tie for 40th place. Kelley's ball-striking was more consistent as the Owls were able to count his score all three rounds.
Rice was able to bounce back from a difficult first two rounds, shooting a 293 (+5). Brown led the Owls by shooting a 67 (-5). Brown's strong final round left him in a tie for 19th place, as he shot a cumulative score of 217 (+1). The Owls' final round score left them in 13th place, ahead of Kansas and the University of Hartford.
Brown said he felt he had been on the verge of a round like this for awhile, but he was finally able to put it all together this weekend.
"I guess it's just having confidence in myself, and knowing I'm good enough to do this," Brown said. "I just made some key putts, didn't make any bad decisions and finished off my rounds strong."
Rice had opportunities to put up solid scores in all three rounds but could not finish off the rounds on a high note. On the last four holes of the final round, the team shot 16 over par. If they had cut that in half, they would have finished two spots higher on the leader board.
Head Coach Drew Scott (Wiess '98) recognized the missed chances the Owls had throughout the tournament.
"I think overall we definitely could've played better," Scott said. "I think we had shades of greatness during the first two days, but we could never finish any of the rounds."
At the top of the leaderboard, Duke University used a final-day surge to move past host North Carolina State University. The Wolfpack had led the tournament after two rounds, but Duke's final-day score of 280 (-8) pushed them past the hosts. N.C. State's Matt Hill led the event from start to finish, shooting a three-round score of 206 (-10) to defeat Duke's Matthew Pierce by four strokes. Hill's victory was his third in a row, solidifying his place as one of the nation's top collegiate golfers.
As Rice's scoring leader, Brown's strong performance at River Landing sent him into the Rice record books. Brown now has the lowest career scoring average and the most rounds of par or better in Rice golf history. Brown's score was also the lowest under par of the season for the Owls and the second-lowest score since 1993. Brown has improved his game at Rice, going from an afterthought as a freshman to the Owls' strongest and most consistent contributor this season.
Burrow has witnessed Brown's growth this season into a strong golfer.
"Chris is always someone we can count on, especially on tough days," Burrow said. "He's grown into a player that can now contend to win golf tournaments."
Brown will look to carry on his strong play to the C-USA Tournament. The team will play 18 holes each day as all 11 conference squads will compete for a berth in the NCAA Regionals. Red Tail Golf Course is a brand new site for the C-USA Tournament, so the Owls will travel to a course they've never seen before. Various water hazards and numerous bunkers will provide a challenge for all participants. However, Scott believes Rice's schedule this year will give them an advantage.
"We've played a nice variety of courses this year," Scott said. "Whatever the course throws at us this week, I'm confident the guys will be prepared.
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