SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Listening to the Texas Tech coaches and players pronounce the first name of freshman Baard Skogen (sounds like bored), you’d think the Norwegian wasn’t very lively.
It’s actually the opposite.
The Red Raiders had a 6:35 a.m. start time for Friday’s opening round of the NCAA Championship, so it was an early wakeup call for head coach Greg Sands’ bunch. Understandably, things were a bit quiet on the 20-minute van ride to Grayhawk Golf Club – that is until Skogen broke the silence.
“Man, it’s like D-Day in here,” he said. “Let’s get the music going.”
The vibe has been great lately for Texas Tech, and that continued on Friday. The Red Raiders looked loose (in a good way) as they shot 4-under 276 to take an early lead in the desert.
“When you’ve been doing it this long, you know when you know, and you can see it in their eyes and see the confidence,” Sands said. “The culture is starting to finally take hold.”
Texas Tech entered this week ranked No. 22 in the country, a disappointing standing considering the preseason expectations. But this team has had to overcome a lot, including the loss of senior leader Sandy Scott to a wrist injury and spurts of poor play from two other seniors, Kyle Hogan and Andy Lopez.
The Red Raiders didn’t win during the regular season. Scott didn’t play at all in the spring. Hogan won at Maridoe to open his fall before tying for 91st in his next event, and he hasn’t notched a top-10 finish since. Lopez has just two top-10s in nine starts.
“It's taken us some time to get all the pieces of puzzle in place,” Sands said.
With an extra emphasis on their mental games in recent weeks, the Red Raiders broke out at the right time, shooting 26 under and winning the NCAA Albuquerque Regional by 10 shots. All five players, including Hogan and Lopez, finished inside the top 25, led by Haskins Award contender Ludvig Aberg, who tied for fourth. He has seven top-5 finishes this season, including two wins.
That momentum bled into Friday, where Texas Tech’s starting five didn’t make anything worse than bogey. In fact, the four counting Red Raiders combined for just eight bogeys, and Garrett Martin’s 1-over 71 was the throw-out score. Aberg shot 68 with three birdies in his final five holes. Lopez and Skogen added 69s, the latter making five birdies.
“We’ve had good team spirit the last few weeks, bonded very well,” Aberg said, “and this is just the result of that.”
Despite no wind, Grayhawk was no pushover thanks to tricky pins, firm greens and unpredictable rough. Texas Tech was well prepared. Aberg said he hit just two drives in the opening round, opting instead for a 2-iron and the almost-boring style of golf that gets it done this time of year.
“It’s just patience out there,” Aberg added. “Fairways, greens, two-putt for par and hopefully sneak in a couple of birdies.”
Oh, and turn the music up and keep the vibe going.