May 27, 2011
SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. - Former Xavier University golfer Jason Kokrak stood just short of the 18th green at Southern Pines Golf Club and said to himself, “What’s going on here? What am I doing?” Just 15 minutes after his bit of perplexed wonder, Kokrak signed his card and took a seat atop the leaderboard of the eGolf Tour’s Donald Ross Championship, 36 holes away from his second win of the year.
The Donald Ross Championship is the seventh event of the 2011 eGolf Professional Tour season and is being contested this week at both Pine Needles Resort & Lodge and Southern Pines Golf Club in Southern Pines, NC. The field of 216 players is competing for $250,000 and an estimated winner’s share of $35,000.
Kokrak entered the week as the tournament’s unofficial defending champion, as the 2010 version was played down the road at Little River Golf Club, with Southern Pines serving as the tournament co-host. Last year, he posted rounds of 63-66-70-67—266 en route to his second title of the year. On Thursday at Southern Pines, he looked to make up ground on 18-hole leader Edward Loar, who had carded a course-record 62 at Pine Needles the day before.
At the Donald Ross-designed Southern Pines course, Kokrak hoped to set a record of his own.
After a first-round 68 at Pine Needles, Kokrak arrived at the short-but-tricky Southern Pines course feeling better about his game than he did the day before.
“I was working on something on the range, and I figured it out just before I came over here,” said Kokrak, who went to Pine Needles first before heading down Midland Road to Southern Pines. “It felt good, so I thought a low one might be out there.
Early on, however, Kokrak had to force his way around the fairly benign opening holes. A poor tee shot on No. 1 led to a somewhat disappointing par on the straightaway opener, and when he left himself a lengthy birdie try on the par-5 second, thoughts of 59 were the furthest thing from his head.
“I hit a bad tee shot on No. 1, but was able to wedge it close and save par,” said the 25-year-old Kokrak. “On No. 2, I hit the green in two, but still had to make a 10-footer for birdie, so the start wasn’t exactly perfect, but I made the most of it."
His tee shot on the par-3 third hit the actual flag and nestled down just a few feet from the hole, setting up an easy birdie.
An eagle at the par-5 fifth put Kokrak on cruise control, and when he followed that up four holes later with a birdie at the ninth, it was the proverbial green light for one of developmental tour golf’s best players.
Follow-up birdies at 10 and 11 gave way to a birdie at the downhill par-4 13th, and Kokrak had pushed his number to 8-under on the round and to 11-under on the event.
“The tee shot on 13 was really the only bad one I hit all day, but I was able to punch out from the pine needles and run it down there pretty close, so it didn’t really cost me,” said Kokrak.
The scrambling birdie on 13 led to disappointing pars on 14 and 15, but Kokrak backed it up with a birdie at the drive-able par-4 16th and a tight wedge shot approach to the 17th for yet another birdie.
Standing on the tee of the short-but-uphill par-4 closing hole at 10-under par, Kokrak used his prodigious length to muscle a driver up the hill just short of the green, and that’s when it hit him.
Cue the aforementioned perplexed wonder.
“I’m sitting there thinking about my pitch shot, and all of a sudden it dawns on me that it’s for a 59,” he said. “I had to re-focus pretty quickly, but it was kind of cool there for a second.”
With a pin sitting perched on a middle-left ridge, Kokrak tried to skip his approach up the hill to check and ideally fall in the hole for a bit of history, but it checked up too quickly and left him short of the hole. He missed the birdie putt, but nevertheless took solace in his ownership of the new course-record 61 at Southern Pines – a course that was designed in 1906.
“I hit the ball solid all day, so I can’t really complain about the par on 18,” said Kokrak, whose only other 61 came in a casual round at his home course. “Hopefully, we can take it over to Pine Needles the next two days and do some damage there.”
Kokrak, at 13-under for the event, will take a one-shot cushion over Loar into the event’s final 36 holes, which will all be contested at venerable Pine Needles.
After a dream 2010 season in which he won twice and earned over $115,000 on the eGolf Tour, Kokrak entered 2011 with conditional Nationwide Tour status, but still planned on playing the eGolf Tour between starts. At the Championship at St. James Plantation in April, he notched his third career title and set up what should have been a nice run on the Nationwide Tour.
“I took some time off after that win and just relaxed with my girlfriend,” he said. “I knew the upcoming stretch would be busy, so I thought it would do me some good.”
A three-putt on the 36th hole at the Nationwide Tour’s South Georgia Classic in mid-April gave Kokrak a missed cut by one shot. The next week, he lost in a playoff for the final spot in the Monday qualifier for the Stadion Classic at UGA. Both results left him out of the BMW Charity Pro-Am last week, and Kokrak’s next chance to win following St. James suddenly became this week’s Donald Ross Championship.
“I haven’t been putting all that well. Even when I won, I just hit it good,” he said. “This week, the putter is coming around, so I’m hoping I can put it all together over the next two days.”
The 36-hole cut fell at 3-under 139, with 83 players making it through to the final 36 holes of play. The third round of the Donald Ross Championship will begin at 8:00 AM on Friday morning, with play beginning off of Nos. 1 and 10 at Pine Needles. The tournament is open to the public and free of charge.