Brian Stark signed for what was tied for best round of the NCAA Men’s Golf Regional at Karsten Creek.
But how he got there was as crazy as the 7-under, 65 he carded in the second round on first day of the tournament Monday.
Stark, Oklahoma State’s alternate on the six-man roster, started his day as a spectator, watching teammate Jonas Baumgartner play the first nine holes Monday morning.
As he sat at the ninth green while other teammates started to finish the the first half of their round, OSU assistant coach Donnie Darr told Stark to start warming up.
“I started practicing then, just warmed up like I was getting ready to play for the tournament,” Stark said. “And then at 12:15 or so, Coach (Alan) Bratton texted me, said, ‘You’re in.’ So I had about 15 minutes to actually like fully mentally prepare for being ready to go.”
But nowhere in that 15 minutes of mental preparation did he envision shooting the low round of the day.
“That’s a little better than I was expecting,” Stark admitted. “But this is one of my favorite courses, I play really well here. I enjoy playing here all the time."
According to Oklahoma State coach Alan Bratton, there was nothing nefarious nor an injury involved to his decision to call an audible. It was simply a case of giving his team’s depth a chance to perform.
“His game wasn’t as sharp as it could have been today, but he saved some shots coming in to get everything he could of that round,” Bratton said of Baumgartner. “Then you’ve got to give credit to Brian Stark. I knew he would be ready to go. We told all our guys if they’re in that spot to be ready to go. We’re fortunate we’ve got a deep team – I wish we could play six or seven guys.”
Stark opened his first round of competition in the tournament by carding an eagle on the par-5 first hole. He gave back a stroke two holes later with a bogey on the par-3 third, but that would be his only mistake of the day.
He birdied four of the next 14 holes – the other 10 carding pars – before hitting what he claimed to be one of the best shots of his career.
On the 575-yard par-5 18th, Stark sent his second shot to within three feet of the hole – making an easy eagle to climb to 7-under.
“It’s my best 4-iron I’ve ever hit – 234 (yards), a little into the wind and I just hit a little draw to about three feet,” said Stark, who will not be in contention for medalist honors since he didn’t not play in the first round. “It was a great way to finish it.”
The moment came roughly two weeks after Stark had one of the best rounds in the history of Karsten Creek. In fact, he had tied for the best – matching Viktor Hovland’s course record of 62.
“That day, it seemed like everything was pretty easy. Today was not quite as easy, but rolled the ball really well on the greens,” Stark said. “Today, I was really happy with the way I putted. That kind of got me out of some not great situations.”
But Stark only tied for the best round of the day because of one of his teammates.
Bo Jin reversed course from his opening-round 74 to match Stark for the low Cowboy at 65. And just like Stark, it ended with an eagle on No. 18.
“It was a pretty good round, especially eagling my last hole,” Jin said. “There was some struggles (in the first round). I was playing decent until the back nine – I had two double (bogeys) coming in, which I just made a couple of bad decisions.
“But I mean, that’s golf. So I just really prepared myself to go play well in my second 18.”
His second round propelled him into third-place in the individual standings.
He sits six strokes behind the leader SMU’s Noah Goodwin, who stands at 11-under with rounds of 66 and 67, respectively.
“I try to pressure every single shot I hit out there, just try to save every single shot I can,” Jin said. “I made a lot more putts in the second round compared to the first one, which helped me a lot. It’s not really big for me, it’s big for the team.”
The eagles on the final hole by Stark and Jin positioned the Pokes to battle for the program’s 15th regional title heading into the final round of the tournament. As a team, OSU holds a two-stroke lead over Illinois.
Oklahoma State has two other golfers in the top 10 after the first two rounds.
Austin Eckroat and Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra are each tied for ninth at 3-under with Eckroat shooting a 70 then a 71, while Lopez-Chacarra had similar scores, but flipped by rounds.
Aman Gupta also shot a 1-under in the second round after a 1-over 73 in the first. He stands tied for 15th at even-par.
With the unpredictable Oklahoma weather that led to the decision to play two rounds Monday, the tournament committee made another adjustment to try to complete the 54-hole event Tuesday. The first teams off the tee box, which will include Oklahoma State alongside Illinois and SMU, are scheduled to start at 10 a.m.