Stillwater, Okla. — The official’s horn blew three times at 8:38 p.m., eight minutes after sunset, giving the final group of golfers on Karsten Creek, playing the first day of the NCAA golf finals, the option of either marking and picking up at any point during the final hole or finishing it.
Andy Spencer, No. 1 player for the University of Kansas golf team, decided to hit one more shot, and it was a beauty.
He stuck his wedge into the 18th green, his ninth hole of the day, to just inside of 3 feet. By the time Spencer and the golfers from North Carolina and BYU made it to the green, they decided it was time to call it a night. They marked their balls with tees, and in the event those tees aren’t there in the morning after the grounds crew cuts and rolls the greens, the official drew a map, and the players measured their distances from the cup. Spencer did so with his putter, marking a spot a couple of inches down the handle.
Thanks to a rain delay of 3 hours, 28 minutes, Spencer didn’t tee off until 6:22 p.m. and will have to play 27 holes after he finishes 18.
He was KU’s low medalist for the day at 1 under par and the team was in a tie for 19th at 5 over in the 30-school field when play was suspended. Exactly half the schools had all five golfers finish. Northwestern was one of those schools and led the field at 8 under.
Playing a round-and-a-half on a hot day on taxing course to walk isn’t ideal, but Spencer saw the holes he did play as a bonus.
“When we were sitting in our hotel this morning, my roommate, Dan Sutton, and I didn’t think we were going to play today,” Spencer said. “Any time you can get some golf in to reduce the day tomorrow is pretty good.”
Plus, it was a beautiful evening to play golf.
“After the storms came through and the wind died down it was nice,” Spencer said. “The greens were pretty receptive so you could fire at some pins. Tomorrow once it gets hot it will probably firm up a little bit. In the morning it will be a little soft like it is right now.”
Spencer had a pair of birdies and one bogey. Sutton had the next cleanest scorecard, playing the back nine in even par with a bogey and a birdie. He finished just before Spencer and just after the sun had dropped. His putt on the final hole lipped out, denying him a birdie.
The toughest part about playing night golf?
“It’s hard to read the greens in the dark,” Sutton said. “You can’t see the breaks. If you’re too far away you might not see the pin either.”
Nerves might have come into play early in the round. Two of KU’s five players, junior Charlie Hillier and senior Daniel Hudson, incurred penalty strokes on their first shots, losing their drives to the right. Hillier carded a double-bogey 6, Hudson a triple. Hudson shook it off and rattled off nine consecutive pars and enters his second day at 3 over. Hillier is 3 over, as is his brother, Harry, a freshman. The younger Hillier started his day well and was at 2 under through six holes. He then turned erratic: Double, par, bogey, birdie, triple.
“This course, you get out of position you can get hurt pretty bad,” KU coach Jamie Bermel said. “Hopefully, we can keep it between the bushes.”
Sutton, who hit every fairway with his driver, did a nice job of keeping it between the bushes, as did Spencer, except for one shot. Spencer’s putter was steady as well. He made a 5-footer on 10 for par and then missed the green left on No. 11, a par 3, and left himself a tough chip up a hill. He saved par by making a 15-footer.
“Those putts early were pretty key to calm my nerves,” Spencer said. “Hopefully I can come out tomorrow morning and do some damage because it’s going to be a long day.”
Four players, two of whom finished, two still with holes remaining in their first rounds, shared the individual lead at 5 under when play was suspended.