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Bo knows birdies: Jin takes NCAA lead as Oklahoma State follows suit

Ben Adelberg/OSU Athletics

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – During Oklahoma State’s practice round last month at the Big 12 Championship, the Cowboys were comparing club selections on one of Prairie Dunes’ par-3 tee boxes. Freshman Bo Jin pulled out a shorter club than his teammates, prompting some quizzical banter.

That’s when Jin chirped back.

“Hey, I decide how far this club goes,” he stated, before unloading on one and muscling his ball onto the green.

“He’s got a lot of shots for a young kid,” Oklahoma State head coach Alan Bratton said. “He shapes shots and can manipulate the club pretty good. He can hit a 7-iron, and he might chip it from 150 [yards] or he might hit it 210.”

Jin has needed all the shots this week at the NCAA Championship – and he’s hit them all, too. Through 36 holes at Grayhawk Golf Club, Jin is 8 under. He carded seven birdies in Saturday’s second round, including three straight to cap his back nine, to shoot 5-under 65.

The stellar performance has continued a trend of Jin playing well on tough golf courses. Before he even arrived in Stillwater, Jin reached the final of the U.S. Junior Amateur at Inverness Club before falling to incoming Arizona State freshman Preston Summerhays. Last fall, he tied for fourth in just his second college start, at punishing Maridoe Golf Club in Dallas. In his last two starts, he’s finished runner-up, at Big 12s and the NCAA Stillwater Regional at Karsten Creek.

“Everybody is shooting decently high numbers,” Jin said, “so if you just keep making pars, par will be a good score, and if you get a birdie that’s a bonus, but a bogey will never kill you on a hard golf course, too.”

Added Bratton: “He does a wonderful job of putting the past behind him. When he makes a mistake, he just keeps rolling. Nothing really fazes him out there.”

It’s easy to get caught up in the 19-year-old Jin’s measurables. He stands at 6 feet, 4 inches, towering over most of his peers, and has filled out since stepping on campus, looking more like a shooting guard. (Just don’t ask him to dribble a basketball.)

“He’s a big, strong kid,” Bratton said.

But until recently, Jin never utilized his size correctly in his golf swing. When he nearly won the U.S. Junior, Jin had already developed a reputation for pausing at the top of his swing. Think Hideki Matsuyama but longer, Bratton says.

The hitch was to keep Jin from getting too quick with his transition and helped with his accuracy, especially with the driver. But it also majorly sapped his power.

“I felt like I needed to get rid of that when I got to college,” Jin said

Jin was born in China and lived in Singapore for a few years before moving to San Diego when he was 14 years old. His older brother, Cheng, won an Asia-Pacific Amateur, played in a Masters and spent a couple of seasons at USC. But for the younger Jin, he was drawn to Oklahoma State because of its history and knack for turning out Tour pros.

Cutting his teeth at Karsten Creek, Jin was forced to become more consistent with his ball-striking. His biggest area of improvement has come with his shorter clubs. Last fall, Jin’s wedge game was subpar and he struggled to dial in his distances with those scoring clubs.

“He didn’t know how far anything went,” Bratton said.

But Jin was like a sponge, receptive to advice from his coaches and not allergic to hard work. This week, his wedges have been a strength and have helped him avoid the big numbers. He has just four bogeys through two rounds and is in complete control in championship-level conditions.

With Oklahoma State leading instate rival and top-ranked Oklahoma by five shots at 6 under, Jin doesn't just decide how far his clubs go.

He could also decide just how far the Cowboys go in match play.