Hughes Bright Spot For Tide Golf Team

WEST LAFAYETTE, IND. – Matt Hughes says he made up his mind before he went to bed Wednesday night that he wasn't going to let the nightmare that was his first round play in the 2008 NCAA Men's Golf Championships affect how he woke up and played in Thursday morning's second round.

Grateful it wasn't a sport like football, he says, where he would have had to wait a whole week before he could avenge his last outcome, in his case a score of 90, Hughes stepped on to the course Thursday morning fresh and determined to tee it up and play the kind of low round he knew he was capable of producing.

"I just tried to stay focused right from the first shot I hit on the driving range this morning," said the University of Alabama golfer, "which I did. And I got off to a better start. I still double-bogeyed my third hole but even then I just made up my mind that I was going to be tough. It's a tough golf course. Bad scores are going to happen on a few holes. You just have to fight back."

Fight back he did. Hughes went from shooting 18-over on the par 72 course in round one to going into No. 18 at 3-under par in round two and ending the round with a 1-under par score of 71. His score helped Alabama improve its play as well. The Crimson Tide is in 15th place of 30 teams going into Friday's third round.

"He bettered his score by 19 shots: almost 20 because he doubled the last hole, too, for 71," said Alabama head golf coach Jay Seawell who Hughes said sat down with him at the team hotel Wednesday night and convinced Hughes he could turn his play around. "I was really proud of him for how he handled himself. He was 3-under par with the last hole to play. I am proud of that. I think that's a character thing and I'm proud of how he handled that."

Alabama went into the second round at 21-over par and in a tie for 12th place after Wednesday's opening round. It shot 9-over par, 297, bettering its performance but dimming its hopes for a national title for the nation's No. 1 ranked team. The Tide is in 15th place and 17 shots out of the lead. On Friday, after the completion of 54 holes, the field will be cut to the top 15 teams. Those 15 teams will advance to play Saturday for the national championship.

"We had a chance to play good today and for some reason we made a lot of what I call ‘others'" said Seawell. "Eight doubles (bogeys) and a triple and counting those. By having those we blew a chance to really be back in the tournament. We're kind of behind the Eight Ball now. We'll see how we do tomorrow. We've got two more rounds though. You don't ever give up hope in golf. But we left a good one out there and unfortunately, the 11th hole really was the downfall today."

Three Tide golfers, Michael Thompson, Mark Harrell and Matt Hughes, all double-bogeyed on the 11th hole. Joseph Sykora bogeyed it. Only Matthew Swan made it through unharmed, shooting par on the par 4.

Clemson is the 36-hole leader, making the turn Thursday at 11-under par but finishing the round at even par after playing the back nine. The Tigers are at 13-over par, (301-288/589) for the tournament. At second is UCLA (590), followed by Southern Cal (591), Florida (593), Oklahoma State (594), Washington (595), Georgia (596), Stanford (597), Kent State (598), Charlotte (601), Middle Tennessee (602), Texas A&M (603), Arizona State and Illinois (604), Alabama (309-297/606), Louisville (607), UAB (608), Auburn (610), Penn State, East Tennessee State and San Diego State (613), UC-Irvine (617), Wake Forest (618), Virginia and Oregon (619), Texas (620), Mississippi State and Indiana (623), Augusta State (634) and Saint Mary's (642).

Seawell said the conditions were better Thursday than on Wednesday for the opening round when wind and cool temperatures contributed to the already challenging course.

"It was warmer today and there was no wind at all," said Seawell. "It was very scorable. It's still a tough golf course. You've still got to hit good golf shots. It was there for the taking. There for the taking here is about par. You can get around at a couple under if you play really, really well. But still, if you hit a bad golf shot you can make a double evidently because we made quite a few of them."

Alabama had a 6:47 a.m. CT tee time Thursday for the second round and started out on the front nine. When Alabama made the turn after nine holes, Hughes was 2-under par, Thompson was 1-under par, Harrell was even par, Swan was 3-over and Sykora was 4-over par after nine.

Hughes had Alabama's low round at 71 (90-71/161) and is 17-over par for the tournament. Harrell shot 1-over par, 73, for the round and is at 8-over par (79-73/154). Thompson ended at 2-over Thursday, shooting 74 (76-74/150) and is a 6-over for the tournament. Swan shot 7-over, 79, and is at 10-over par for the tournament (75-79/154). And Joseph Sykora had Alabama's uncounted score for the round, a 10-over par 82 and is 17-over par after 36 holes (79-82/161).

In the individual standings, Thompson is T-32nd, Harrell T-54th, Swan T-70th, and Hughes and Sykora are T-136th. Florida's Billy Horschel is the 36-hole leader at 5-under, shooting 72-67/139 to take a one-shot lead against Clemson's Kyle Stanley.

Harrell says the team will go into Friday's round with the intent to not only make the cut of 15 teams but to also make a run.

"It's not over. You come back. You get a good rest tonight and you come back and you worry about the first shot on the first hole tomorrow and you go from there. You stay in the moment, stay positive, stay patient and hopefully we'll get turned around and start playing better," said Harrell. "You know in the back of your mind that there are good teams ahead of you and they're going to play well. And so that's what we've got to do and slowly chop away at their lead."

Hughes' play on Thursday was the biggest evidence that Alabama's golfers are capable of quick comebacks. He shot 90 in the first round, this from a player who came into the tournament with a 73.17 stroke average this season. On Thursday he made par on the first two holes but double-bogeyed No. 3, a par 4. He then birdied four of the next six holes on that front nine and made par on the other two to turn at 2-under par.

"I think it was the tale of two rounds and probably the tale of two attitudes," said the junior from Dalton, Ga. "Yesterday I never really lost my composure but if you make bad decisions and execute poorly, not much good is going to happen. Today I just got in a better frame of mind. I handled adversity better. I was also able to get a lot better shots. Honestly, you've got to hit good shots to play well. And if you shoot it as badly as I did yesterday—and obviously I hit it really bad—so I just played it better.

"Yesterday I think I might have panicked a little bit. I made a lot of bogeys on the first few holes," said Hughes who is an All-Southeast Region selection in 2008. "You don't know what to expect out here. It's the best field in the country. So I probably just panicked a little bit. I made up my mind today that no matter what happened I was just going to be tough and handle it the best I could."

Alabama begins 3rd round play Friday at 7:35 a.m. CT with Sykora starting the team wave on the 1st Tee. He'll be followed, in 10 minute tee time intervals, by Hughes, Swan, Harrell and then Thompson. Alabama is playing with Arizona State and Illinois.

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