LAS VEGAS – By now, players and coaches come to the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters expecting the worst.
With the weather, that is.
Wind and rain. Lightning and hail. Sleet and scorching sun.
“Every coach has had his Weather Channel app refreshed for the past 10 days,” Cal coach Steve Desimone said.
Can’t blame ’em.
Southern Highlands is already the most difficult venue these players face all season long. Throw in some inclement weather, and, well, there’s a reason why the scores here have been well north of par.
Since 2010, there have been 54-hole winning scores of 22 and 35 over. In 2012, the last-place team finished at 80 over.
Seemingly everyone in the field has a horror story here ... so imagine the surprise when the first round was played on a softer, more receptive layout and under cloudless skies with a warm sun and nonexistent breeze.
As Desimone said Monday, “This was, by far, not even close, the calmest and mildest day I’ve ever seen here.”
And the teams took advantage.
Fourth-ranked Texas shot 12-under 276 to open up a four-shot lead over Oklahoma State. Seven other teams were at par or better, including a total of six squads in red figures.
Twenty-six players broke par on Day 1, with the pace set by UNLV’s Redford Bobbitt and Oklahoma’s Charlie Saxon, who shot 7-under 65s.
Bobbitt, playing as an individual, said the team practices so often at Southern Highlands that he could play the course “in his sleep,” but that familiarity didn’t help him last year. He opened with 85 and was dead last.
On Monday, he shot 7-under 29 on the inward nine (the front) to match the sub-30 score fired by Texas’ Kramer Hickok hours earlier.
“Today was as easy of a day as you can get out here,” said Hickok, whose previous trips here haven’t been all that fruitful. He still has more rounds in the 80s (three) than 60s (one, today).
In 2012, he ballooned to an 83 on a day when the field averaged 79. “I felt better about my score when I saw that,” he said.
Alabama coach Jay Seawell remembers sending out Trey Mullinax as his No. 5 man that year. The then-sophomore hit his second shot on the par-4 first hole over the green, then needed seven – yes, seven – more shots to get the ball in the hole.
A year later, Seawell was standing on the 12th tee when he saw a storm brewing over a mountain just to his left. At the time it was 75 degrees, sunny, calm. Within a matter of moments, there was lightning, sleet, rain and hail. The temperature plunged to 40 degrees with a biting wind.
“Never in my life have I seen all four seasons in 60 seconds,” Seawell said.
No player is prepared for that kind of wacky weather, but there’s a reason why host UNLV has won seven of the past 10 years. It helps to know the course’s intricacies when the weather turns sour.
“It’s a huge advantage,” Bobbitt said.
Even if it wasn’t necessary Monday.
Only two players shot in the 80s – a rarity around here, even in this elite, 15-team field – and at least a dozen guys used some combination of “perfect”, “ideal” or “easy” to describe the day.
To be sure, they know what’s coming the rest of the week – the longer rough, the fiery, baked-out greens, the higher scores.
For now, they simply were happy not to add to their collection of horror stories.