ETSU’s Pugh trying match feat of countryman at Hackler

ablondin@thesunnews.comMarch 10, 2014 

— As a native of Wales, East Tennessee State junior Rhys Pugh is very familiar with the exploits of another Rhys from Wales and ETSU – Rhys Davies.

In case he wasn’t, 28-year Buccaneers coach Fred Warren has made him well aware of his former star player’s two wins at the General Hackler Championship in 2005 and ’07 at the TPC of Myrtle Beach.

“Coach makes us aware of everything that Rhys has done,” said Pugh, who has met and Davies and considers him a role model. “I’d like to follow in his footsteps.”

Pugh has put himself in position to earn ETSU’s fourth individual Hackler title in the past nine years, joining Davies and Seamus Power, who won the Buccaneers’ third individual Hackler title in 2010.

He shot rounds of 73 and 70 Monday to take a one-shot lead into Tuesday’s final round of the 13th Hackler at 1-under 143, which is a shot better than Coastal Carolina junior Andrew Dorn, Kent State senior Corey Conners and UNC Wilmington senior Payne McLeod.

Pugh, the 2013 Atlantic Sun Conference runner-up, tied for 34th at the TPC last year with rounds of 76, 75 and 80.

“I haven’t made many mistakes. I’m just hitting fairways and greens, which is what you have to do around here,” Pugh said. “You have to be patient out here and you have to hit some golf shots. There’s a long way to go on this golf course. Anything can happen.”

In the team competition, Kent State holds a one-shot lead at 16-over 592 over East Carolina and Middle Tennessee State. Host Coastal Carolina is 10 shots off the pace in sixth.

While ETSU players have made a habit of winning individual Hackler titles, Dorn is trying to become CCU’s first individual champion of its home tournament.

“A win is a win, but it’s especially big since it’s your home tournament,” Dorn said. “This one hits home. It would be good to bring home the trophy. And the team’s still in it.”

The Ohio native started Monday with six birdies in his first 10 holes to reach 4 under. “Then the course came back to me,” he said. “I really hit the ball well today. I made some putts but missed a few short ones. I really fell tomorrow could be even better potentially.”

Dorn’s top finish this season is a tie for sixth in October at ETSU’s tournament and he’s second on the team in scoring average at 73.71 to junior Ben Wheeler.

“I’ve been playing well but it just hasn’t all been clicking,” Dorn said. “I’ve been hitting the ball good and putting bad, or putting bad and hitting the ball good. I put everything together today.”

Dorn tied for eighth in the Hackler at 3-over 219 last year, when the course played a lot more firm and fast. It has been softened by four consecutive days of rain last week.

“We’ve been playing TPC all year this year, and the two years previous we were out here all the time,” Dorn said. “I think it’s a really big advantage. Hitting tee shots is a lot easier when you’re used to the course, and I think it’s a real big advantage around the greens, too. It helped a lot out there today.”

Kent State is the top-ranked team in the tournament at 22 in Golfweek’s Sagarin rankings and 23 by Golfstat, and no other team is in the top 40.

But the Golden Flashes were eighth in the 12-team field after shooting a 17-over 305 in the opening round. They made amends in the afternoon, carding a 1-under 287 to take the lead by a stroke over East Carolina and Middle Tennessee State.

“The good news is I’m glad we did it in the order we did it in,” said longtime Kent State coach Herb Page. “I’m very proud of my players. They’re very resilient kids. We’ve done this before so they never give up. There’s no quit. I’m very proud of them for what they did this afternoon. It was a heck of a round.”

The Golden Flashes finished second to Tennessee in their only other tournament this spring hosted by Davidson. “We’re going to get better and better every week,” Page said. “We haven’t played much golf. It’s been a cold winter.”

Kent State’s top two players, seniors and Ontario, Canada, natives Corey Conners and Taylor Pendrith, are both candidates for the Ben Hogan collegiate player of the year award and are ranked among the top 16 amateurs in the world – Conners at No. 2 and Pendrith at No. 16. Conners won the prestigious Jones Cup in Sea Island, Ga., on Feb. 2.

Conners shot a 3-under 69 in the second round and is tied for second at even-par 144, while Pendrith shot a second-round 71 and is tied for seventh at 147.

“My two players at the top of the lineup are world class players,” Page said. “They’re fabulous players and they played up to their capabilities.”

Pendrith shared medalist honors at the TPC last year at 1-under 215 and Conners finished a shot back in third.

Coastal Carolina had a one-stroke lead following an opening-round 7-over 295, as Dorn and Wheeler, senior Roberto Ballesteros and freshman Olle Widegren all shot 74s or better.

But a 307 in the second round dropped the Chants 10 shots off Kent State’s pace. Wheeler shot a 76 and Widegren a 77 in the second round, and the Chants counted junior Peter Valasek’s 83 because Ballesteros carded an 84.

“We had four solid scores in the first round,” first-year CCU coach Kevin McPherson said. “Having to count an 83 in there hurt us. Unfortunately that was our biggest downfall. And that’s kind of been our same song and dance throughout the year, trying to get a third, fourth and fifth score.

“… This afternoon we kind of limped in a little bit, but we’re only 10 shots out of the lead and we’ve got a good chance to make some ground up tomorrow.”

Team scores–Kent State 305-287–592, East Carolina 303-290–593, Middle Tennessee State 303-290–593, East Tennessee State 303-292–593, Iowa State 296-301–597, Coastal Carolina 295-307–602, Lamar 298-305–603, Louisville 302-301–603, Duke 314-301–615, UNC-Wilmington 311-309–620, North Carolina 311-312–623, Northern Illinois 330-319–649.

Top 10 Individuals–Rhys Pugh (ETSU) 73-70–143, Corey Conners (KSU) 75-69–144, Andrew Dorn (CCU) 73-71–144, Payne McLeod (UNCW) 70-74–144, Scott Fernandez (ISU) 72-74–146, Antoine Le Saux (Louisville) 74-72–146, Eric Brady (ECU) 77-70–147, Taylor Pendrith (KSU) 76-71–147, Ruben Sondjaja (ISU) 70-77–147, Wesley Conover (ECU) 74-74–148, Ryan Eibner (ECU) 74-74–148.

Others for CCU–t18. Ben Wheeler 74-76–150, t25. Olle Widegren 74-77–151, t47. Robert Ballesteros 74-84–158, t55. Peter Vasalek 78-83–161.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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