WAIKOLOA — Alan Bratton knows the Waikoloa Kings’ Course about as well as anyone could.
Not only does he know the course, he knows how to win on it too, having captured the low medalist honors in 1993 — only the third year of the Amer Ari golf tournament.
Now in his fifth year at the helm of the Oklahoma State, Bratton also knows how to lead a team to victory in Waikoloa. Bratton’s Cowboys captured the team title in 2014, the 24th running of the prestigious intercollegiate tournament.
“I have been coming here since 1992 and I love this course. It is not as long as it used to be, but It has really stood the test of time.” Bratton said. “Everyone treats us really well and there is always a really good field. The course is also in the best shape it has been since I started coming back here.”
Bratton’s love for the course grew a little more on Friday as his Oklahoma State squad, which is ranked No. 1 in the country, ran away from the field, carding a second day team total of 21-under 267. The Cowboys, who entered the day in second place at 8-under, now command a nine-shot lead over Georgia Tech and defending champs Texas Tech.
“On Thursday our score was solid but I thought we were pretty sloppy on some of the easy holes,” Bratton said. “We did not do that today.”
Bratton credits his teams dominating performance with not settling for an early lead, claiming his Oklahoma State squad was able to “put the hammer down.”
No one on the squad demonstrated this philosophy more than Hayden Wood, a junior and three-time Amer Ari competitor, who currently sits atop the leaderboard after carding a bogey-free, 7-under round on Day 2.
“I was telling Hayden this earlier, it is easy to get to 4- or 5-under and just kind of cruise into the clubhouse. But he just kept making birdies like you are supposed to do. That is how you break through your comfort zone,” Bratton said. “It doesn’t matter if you birdie or bogey the last four holes, you continue to play the shot in front of you. That is how guys break course records and shoot 59s.”
Wood said he started the day a little slow, but for him, slow meant making pars on the first four holes, including the 513-yard, par-5 fourth, which was the easiest hole on the course during the first round, allowing 11 eagles and 58 birdies. The No. 4 hole played much tougher on Friday, allowing only one eagle. It did give way to 60 birdies, however.
“The wind was not blowing as hard today and some of the guys, playing with the wind, were not able to hit a shorter club in,” Wood said. “The pin was also a lot tougher and it was tucked. It was a good hole today, but still a birdie hole.
Disappointed after picking up a par on No. 4, Wood rebounded with four birdies on the next five holes to wrap up the front nine.
“I hit some really nice wedge shots,” said Wood on his birdie binge. “I went for it on No. 5 and got up and down after a nice 5-footer. I hit a good 9-iron on the next hole and made a 9-footer. I just started making more putts.”
Putting was the difference between Wood’s score from the first to the second round. He posted a 3-under 69 on the first day of the tourney.
“I played well on Friday, I just could not get anything to fall. But I stayed patient and kept doing what I have been working on and the putts started to go in,” Wood said. “I was also very happy with no bogeys.”
Wood finished his round with a birdie on the 18th hole, which took over the top spot as the easiest hole on the course, despite most players needing to carry 200 or more yards to the green on their second shot, which included a sand bunker and lava hazard up front, as well as a front pin placement.
The 501-yard, par-5 hole yielded nine eagles and 46 birdies. It was one of only three holes on the course not to force a double bogey.
Wood hit a 195-yard shot onto the middle of the green, playing a club up just to make sure he carried the sand and hazard. However, he had a tricky two-putt coming back to finish the hole at 1-under.
“It was down wind, down hill and down grain,” Wood said. “The first putt got a little away from me and I still had a 5-footer coming back. It was definitely, by no means, a gimmie birdie.”
Matthew Wolff and Viktor Hovland shot 5-under 67 and Zach Bauchou finished with a 68 to round out the team scoring for the Cowboys. Wolff is currently tied for third indvidually with five other players at 8-under. Southern California’s Justin Suh currently sits second at 9-under after carding a 6-under 66 on Friday.
Duck takes flight
For the second straight year, Oregon’s Norman Xiong rebounded from a slow first round to shoot 8-under on Day 2 of the Amer Ari. Xiong’s 64 was the low round of the day, and helped propel Oregon five spots in the team standings, into a tie for fifth with first round leader Texas at 14-under.
“It’s the first tournament of the season and I just felt a little out of sorts on the first day,” Xiong said. “Today I felt more committed, more confident and more focused.”
With a shotgun start, Xiong began his day on the ninth hole. He made par on his first three holes before picking up three straight birdies on holes 12, 13 and 14. He eagled No. 18. Xiong completed his bogey-free round with three birdies over the final eight holes.
“I did the same thing last year, so I guess it is a little like deja vu,” Xiong said. “This is a good course and it is very gettable, but some holes can cost you. The Bermuda is also tough, but once the ball gets rolling, you can make a lot of putts.”
For Kevin Ginoza, the Director of Golf for Waikoloa Beach Resort, the Amer Ari holds a special place in his heart. The former University of Hawaii-Hilo golfer had a chance to play in the tournament in the early 90s, placing his name on a list that includes some of the greatest golfers in the game such as Tiger Woods and Jordan Speith.
“Being an average player, it is always great to be a part of a bigger field like this tournament brings in,” Ginoza said. “It is fun to look at the amateur tournament rankings and see that the Amer Ari is ranked as one of the top courses world wide. After 27 years, players just keep coming back. We are just happy to have them here and the exposure is great for the course.”
Ginoza was an assistant pro for Waikoloa from 1998 to 2005 before returning as the head pro in 2011. He was named Director of Golf in 2015.