Darton College golf coach Bill Jones III, left, sizes up a putt with No. 1 player Joe Sakulpolphaisan during Friday’s first round of the Region XVII Tournament at Stonebridge Golf & Country Club. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — Darton was a hole or two away from greatness Friday.
Instead, Darton coach Bill Jones III said his team had to settle for a “solid round” during the opening day of the Region XVII tournament at Stonebridge Golf & Country Club.
A “solid round” from the Cavs still looks unbeatable in a region tournament they have won 10 straight times.
Led by Joe Sakulpolphaisan’s 3-under 69, the 10th-ranked Cavs shot a 287 on their home course to take a six-shot lead into today’s second round.
“We played solid, but we just needed to finish,” said Darton sophomore Shad Tuten, who shot a 71 despite double-bogeying No. 18. “It’s our home course, and we should play good. It was perfect conditions today, the greens were rolling pretty good, and I think we played pretty solid.”
Sakulpolphaisan, the No. 1-ranked junior college golfer in the country, is the individual leader by two shots but was one of several Darton golfers who stumbled on the last few holes, preventing the Cavs from breaking away even further from the field. The five Darton golfers combined to shoot 7-over on the final two holes — two holes that are relatively easy — to drop to 1-under as a team.
“We were playing some of the best golf we have played all year until the last three or four holes,” Jones said. “We aren’t disappointed with the score. We are disappointed with the way they finished. We could have put a lot of distance between us and second place.”
Also for Darton, Chase Jones shot a 73 and Nick Green carded a 74, while freshman Robert Robertson’s 81 was tossed out.
Gordon is in command of second place at 293, followed by ABAC (306), Andrew (315) and Georgia Military College (330). Tate Gardner led Andrew with a 76, while teammate Linus Manntz shot a 77.
The Cavs are coming off the District IV tournament earlier this week when they finished in a disappointing third place, and Sakulpolphaisan is trying to keep his momentum going after finishing runner-up at district.
The native of Thailand was runner-up in last year’s region tournament but surged to an early lead in Friday’s opening round thanks to an eagle on the par five No. 6. He reached the green on his second shot with a six iron from 180 yards out and sank a five-foot putt.
He made the turn at 3-under and was playing some of his best golf of the season before he ran into trouble on No. 13. Sakulpolphaisan’s second shot on the par five landed just short of the green in some freshly-laid sod, which he was forced to take relief from. The drop area gave him a tricky chip from the other side of the green, which led to him two-putting and losing focus.
“Golf is just such a mental game. You get mad and it affects you, and there is nothing good that could happen,” Jones said. “Joe still had a good round, but he was playing 5, 6, 7-under type golf, but he couldn’t get out with that because of the bad attitude.”
Sakulpolphaisan played the rest of his round at 1-over but missed several putts on the back nine that would have given him an even larger individual lead.
“I hit the ball pretty good, but I didn’t make some putts. Overall, it was alright,” Sakulpolphaisan said. “This can give us more confidence going into nationals.”
Prepping for next month’s national tournament is what this weekend is all about for the Cavs, who qualified for nationals for the 11th year in a row with their Top 7 finish in district.
“It’s very important because as coach would say, ‘You have to play good in practice,’ and this is pretty much practice for nationals,” Tuten said. “I think it will be good for us to put up some good numbers today and this weekend. It will give us more confidence and push to do well (at nationals).”