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GSW’s Gahman rallies for Top 10 finish on Day 1 of NCAA Nationals

Former Lee County star and Herald Player of the Year Nate Gahman played the front nine during the first of the NCAA Division II nationals at 3-over, but he recovered nicely and shot 3-under on the back, leaving him in a tie for ninth overall after Day 1 on Monday in Hershey, Pa.

Former Lee County star and Herald Player of the Year Nate Gahman played the front nine during the first of the NCAA Division II nationals at 3-over, but he recovered nicely and shot 3-under on the back, leaving him in a tie for ninth overall after Day 1 on Monday in Hershey, Pa.

HERSHEY, Pa. — The front nine holes of Georgia Southwestern senior Nate Gahman’s first — and only — trip to the NCAA Division II Men’s Golf Championships didn’t go so well.

Good thing he crushed the back.

Gahman, the Lee County High School product and former Herald Player of the Year, had one heck of a rollercoaster plummet and climb on the Day 1 leaderboard during the opening round at Hershey Country Club.

Gahman started calm and steady and was among the early leaders through six holes, but then he saw his name fade from the top after a double bogey on No. 7, followed by a bogey on No. 8.

At one point he was 52nd overall out of 108 total golfers.

He finished the round tied for ninth.

“Well ... I guess you could say it was an up and down day,” a laughing Gahman told The Herald late Monday night by telephone, able to find a little humor in his round at that point after finishing even-par — and not just salvaging what could’ve been a bad day, but turning it into a nationals debut to remember.

“There were no nerves at all early. Nerves weren’t a factor. I just had a little trouble judging the yardage at first, and I caught a couple of bad breaks on 7 and 8,” he added. “I really wasn’t missing anything. I was just shooting a little past the hole. But once I’d get on the green, my short game was on point.”

By Hole No. 9, the 3-over nightmare was behind Gahman, who proceeded to par the final hole of the front nine before turning his attention to the second half of his round.

It didn’t take long to lock in.

Gahman birdied No. 10, then used a 7-iron to hit a crowd-roaring approach on the Par 3, 13th to within two feet of the cup.

“Definitely the highlight of the day for me, that shot,” said Gahman, who qualified for nationals only as an individual after GSW didn’t make it as a team, meaning he’s only competing for an individual NCAA National Championship this week. “Getting (those two shots back on Nos. 10 and 13) was a big relief.”

But Gahman wasn’t done.

Gahman proceeded to follow up his incredible shot on No. 13 with another birdie on the Par 4 15th, then finish out his round with three straight pars to secure his spot among the Top 10 after Day 1.

And he’s not shy about saying he thinks he’s right where he belongs.

“I’ve seen all or most of the guys who are in the Top 10, and I know I can compete with them,” said Gahman of the leaderboard, which featured six players tied with him at even-par, four at 1-under, three at 2-under and just one player at 3-under — overall leader Adam Svensson of Barry University. “I just have to go out (today), make birdies and keep it in the fairway. I only hit nine greens and six fairways (Monday) — and I had 26 putts — so I feel pretty good about where I am right now.”

Gahman, because he’s playing as an individual, also has the benefit of GSW head coach Darcy Donaldson tagging along every step of the way, basically acting as his personal caddie and advisor on each hole.

Donaldson said he was proud of how Gahman started — then recovered — and eventually finished the round.

“It didn’t start out as ‘Nate Golf,’ as I call it, but it finished like ‘Nate Golf,’ ” Donaldson said. “He hit a lot of good shots all day, he just airmailed a few. But inside 7 or 8 feet? The guy didn’t miss, and it kept his round going. I told him (afterward),’ ‘I don’t think we need to change anything. Your club selection is great, and you’re hitting it where you’re supposed to. You’re right there. ”

Gahman tees off at 8:50 a.m. today.