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With its senior leader back in fold, Sam Houston State starts strong at NCAAs

Jason Barfield/SHSU

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – You could say that Will Holcomb has some unfinished business.

No, literally. The Sam Houston State senior didn’t complete his last two tournaments. On Monday, he withdrew midway through U.S. Open Final Qualifying after heavy rain suspended the 36-hole event until Tuesday. Before that, he was forced out of the final round at the NCAA Stillwater Regional after his roommate tested positive for COVID-19. He was second on the leaderboard at the time, too.

“That’s a weird feeling … I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel good,” Holcomb said. “You’re not in the same mindset and nothing feels the same as finishing a tournament, whether it was going to be good or bad or indifferent.”

Luckily, Holcomb has a chance for redemption. The Bearkats, playing with no margin for error, delivered an inspiring finish at regionals to qualify for their first NCAA Championship and keep Holcomb’s college career alive. Now back at full strength, Sam Houston State opened nationals with a 2-under 278, the second-best score of the morning wave Friday at Grayhawk Golf Club.

“Our goal is to just try and shoot under par every day,” Bearkats head coach Brandt Kieschnick said.

It’s a lot easier with Holcomb atop the lineup. After driving back to Huntsville from Stillwater with his parents, Holcomb said he’s been tested what has seemed like “400-500 times” in the past 10 days. All were negative, and Holcomb, who experienced lung issues as a child, hasn’t come close to having any symptoms. He even ran 8 miles the day after regionals.

“Thankfully, he has a halo around him,” Kieschnick said.

In the blistering desert heat on Friday, Holcomb continued to look comfortable. His driver didn’t cooperate on his first nine, Grayhawk’s back side, as Holcomb yanked all but two drives just a tad left. But the gritty senior went bogey-free and turned in 1-under 35. On the front, he had just one hiccup, a bogey on No. 5, but added three more birdies to open in 2-under 68.

“It was cool watching the round come to me,” Holcomb said.

The affable Holcomb is as mature as they come – he’s the only married man competing this week. He’s also quite talkative. He said he enjoyed conversing Friday with not only his playing competitors, Louisville’s Matthias Schmid and Georgia Tech’s Christo Lamprecht, but also Yellow Jackets head coach Bruce Heppler. There was also time to chat with some Titleist reps about summer gear. Oh, and Holcomb took forever to come out of the scoring tent, not because there was an issue but because he had starting gabbing with the official, who was from the Country Club of Charleston, where Holcomb has played in the Azalea Amateur.

Kieschnick also slots in time for his team captain to address the team before each round. Holcomb’s common theme this week is something that he wears on his wrist: “Humble over hype.”

Asked if there was ever an appropriate time for the opposite, Holcomb didn’t hesitate.

“Maybe if we won,” he said. “I don’t know, we were really hyped last week. But we’re still humble, and like we talked about last night, we want to write our own story and spoil somebody’s week.”