HUTCHINSON, Kan. – It took Texas A&M 11 1/2 hours to play 11 holes Friday.
For once, this is not the start of a slow-play joke.
There were 8 hours and 10 minutes of delays Friday during the opening round of the NCAA Championship. Teams with an early-morning tee time arrived at Prairie Dunes at 6:30 a.m. local time. They left 12 hours later, with the lead group only through 11 holes and just half of the 30-team field underway.
First-round play will resume at 7 a.m. CT Saturday.
“This was one of the toughest days I’ve ever been a part of,” Texas A&M coach J.T. Higgins said.
The first round of stroke-play qualifying began ominously, with a 40-minute delay because of lightning. Alas, that proved to be the shortest suspension, because not long after a band of showers and thunderstorms rolled through the area and caused a delay of more than five hours.
Teams were able to play for about 90 minutes before the opening round was stopped again, this time for good. At the time of this writing, more than two inches of rain had fallen on the links-style course.
“It was one of those frustrating days,” SMU coach Josh Gregory said, “because you think you’re going to play and you don’t.”
The Mustangs are currently on Nos. 6-8, while Texas A&M, Texas and USC have played the most holes (through 11). The top 12 seeds didn’t even hit a shot.
The ’Bama players arrived at the course around noon, but only because they had grown tired of sitting in their hotel rooms. Washington, which also had an afternoon tee time, tweeted a photo from their leisurely round at Carey Park Golf Course, about seven miles south of Hutchinson and, apparently, bone-dry.
During the delay, players combated boredom any way they could. Some gorged on fried chicken strips, meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Others played blackjack. A few spent time with their families, or napped in the locker room, or, in Texas A&M’s case, slipped into the team van and watched “Miracle.”
Funny, too, because those same teams thought they’d caught the luck of the draw. In the morning Prairie Dunes was soft and receptive, and there was virtually no wind. They just couldn’t get out on the course to exploit it.
“I thought it was a tremendous break,” said Gregory, but the rain never relented and the stop-and-start nature of the round made it difficult to establish a rhythm. Through 5-7 holes, SMU is 2 under par.
“It sucks for everybody,” Higgins said. “They’re doing their best to get us around, but it’s more than likely that teams are going to be playing a different golf course now.”
With only 15 teams underway, the schedule for the rest of the week is now thrown into flux. Even in perfect conditions – there’s a 50-percent chance of showers and storms Saturday – it seems unlikely that 36 holes will be completed by day's end.
The 54-hole qualifier is scheduled to wrap up Sunday, with a cut to the low eight teams for match play and low 40 individuals. On Monday, those players are supposed to compete in the fourth and final round to crown an individual champion. The quarterfinals and semifinals are scheduled for Tuesday, with the two-team finals on Wednesday.
Officials will worry about the tournament schedule later. For now, Saturday figures to be an all-day affair, with play beginning at 7 a.m. and, weather permitting, continuing until sunset at 8:45 p.m.
“It’s more tough mentally than physically,” Gregory said. “It’s just a mental grind. It’s a test of mental patience.”
With an iffy forecast the rest of the way, it’s clear that more patience will be required.