May 15, 2012
BY ALEX PODLOGAR
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Jacob Barge was a tad nervous.
The Fayetteville State star can admit that now. Standing on the 10th tee -- his first hole of the day at the NCAA Division-II Championship - Barge could feel his stomach doing its own mild version of the 60-degree wedge spinner he likes to pitch into accessible pins.
But he got through it. Drive. Approach. Great chip. Par.
"Oh, after the second hole, I was much more nervous," he said.
On his second hole of the 54-hole odyssey, Barge fell apart. A triple-bogey 7 on the 430-yard par-4 11th at Cardinal Golf Club - his drive was a snapper that traveled just 75 yards -- sunk Barge well down the leaderboard. A bogey on the treacherous 233-yard par-3 12th sent him down even further. On an ideal day for scoring, Barge was 4 over through three holes. Playing his seventh nationally competitive round in the last nine days, perhaps the fatigue and the wear and tear had finally caught up with him.
Instead, he found something.
Memories. Sweet memories.
"Coach (Raymond) McDougal came up to me and just told me to keep my head, to keep my cool," Barge said. "But I was pretty down."
As demoralized as he might have been in that moment, the road-weary Barge couldn't shake the recollections of his incredible last two weeks. Last month's CIAA Championship -- the 26th in Fayetteville State history -- the NCAA regional, the win in Florida. It all came flooding back in a rush.
"I just remembered all the birdies I had made in the last couple of weeks," Barge said. "I played really well from there."
Barge, who qualified for the NCAA Championship as an individual after finishing fourth overall at the NCAA Atlantic/East Regional just last Wednesday, recovered beautifully in a sturdy round of 2-over 74 on the 7,092-yard course on the first day of the NCAA Championship. It was a spectacular rally from a brutal start that came just over 24 hours after he landed in Louisville following a win at the PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championship on Sunday in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
"I'm very proud of how I handled it," Barge said of his start. "Yes, I could've made a few more putts, but I'm very, very, very proud of the way I came back. I was down on myself. I really was."
The junior from Fayetteville began his comeback with a par on the 558-yard par-5 13th hole and continued in a stretch of nine straight pars before a birdie on the 617-yard par-5 fourth hole, his 13th of the day. He closed with four straight pars and a birdie on the par-5 to complete his round, charging from near the bottom of the leaderboard into a tie for 47th after the first round.
"I got a lot of confidence from that birdie on the last hole," Barge said. "I'm looking forward to (Wednesday)."
While Central Oklahoma's Josh Creel scorched the course for a 7-under 65 - he had seven birdies, two bogeys and an eagle -- Barge is just two strokes out of the top 25 and just three shots out of the top 14. For a guy who made a momentous charge up the leaderboard during the second round of the regional, Barge is confident he can achieve his goal of finishing among the top 10 in the country.
"I'll be around," said Barge, who competed in the junior college national championship a year ago. "I know I can compete here."
Barge will tee off the first hole at 8:20 a.m. for the second round on Wednesday. The final round for the individual championship is Thursday.
Central Oklahoma finished the first round with an aggregate score of 9-under 279, six shots ahead of second-place UNC Pembroke (285).