SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Oklahoma State freshman Bo Jin shot a 5-under 65 at Grayhawk Golf Club to take a three-shot lead after two rounds of the NCAA championship Saturday.
Playing in hot-but-benign conditions in the morning, Jin had seven birdies, including three straight to close on the par-70 Raptor Course. He was 8 under in the first NCAA championship in two years after the 2020 season was canceled due to the pandemic.
“To me, playing a hard golf course is is just managing your game more,” Jin said. “Everybody will be shooting a decent high number, so you’ve got to keep managing your game, make pars. Par is a good score and if you make birdie, it’s a bonus.”
Arizona State sophomore Ryggs Johnston had the low round of the day, shooting a 63 to tie Clemson’s Turk Pettit for second at 5 under.
Oklahoma State’s Carson Barry reached 6 under after a birdie on his 17th hole, the par-3 8th. A long, left approach shot into the desert on No. 9 led to a double bogey, dropping him to 4 under after a 67.
Jin’s round helped push Oklahoma State into the team lead at 6-under 554, five shots ahead of Oklahoma. Oklahoma State has won 11 national titles, the last in 2018.
The top 15 teams and nine individuals not on teams that advance move on after Sunday’s round. The individual final round is Monday and the team competition concludes Wednesday.
“We’re just getting more used to the golf course and obviously the conditions in the morning are a little easier,” Cowboys coach coach J.T. Higgins said. “Obviously, we’ll get to go out early again tomorrow and that’s big.”
Jin has made a name for himself quickly since arriving in the U.S.
Born in Beijing, he comes from a strong golf family. His brother, Cheng, won the 2015 Asia-Pacific Amateur before going on to play at Southern California, and his sister, Jiarui, was co-medalist at the 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur.
Jin moved to San Diego in 2014 after a stop in Singapore and had a sterling junior career before signing with the Cowboys. He’s been as sponge to Higgins’ coaching since arriving in Stillwater, rounding into one of the nation’s top collegiate players.
“If anyone’s been paying attention, he’s been doing that since the spring, but from the start of the year until now he’s improved in a big way,” Higgins said. “Just really impressed. He’s so good. He’s got a lot of shots for a young kid.”
Jin has been playing his best at the right time, too, finishing second at the Big 12 Championship and tied for second at the NCAA Stillwater Regional. He surged to the lead on Saturday with three birdies in five holes, starting at the long par-4 seventh, and nearly holed out on the 173-yard par-3 16th for tap-in birdie.
“I just feel like you have to play smart, you can’t go after every single flag,” he said. “My irons were pretty good and I hit my putts well.”
Johnston had a bit of an adjustment at one of the nation’s top college programs after growing up in Libby, Montana.
Located about an hour south of the Canadian border, Libby has about 3,000 people, a couple of stoplights and is 90 minutes from the nearest Walmart. It also has a short golf season, running from late March until about mid-October.
Johnston made the most of his limited time on the one 18-hole course in Libby, Cabinet Golf Course, and played at lot of out-of-state golf as a junior.
The lanky 6-foot-2 sophomore, Arizona State’s No. 3 golfer, matched the program’s low round of 2021 with a 64 at the Valspar Invitational in March and finished tied for fourth at the Pac-12 Championship.
Johnston got off to a hot start in sizzling conditions at Grayhawk, reeling off six birdies in eight holes after starting on No. 10. He offset a bogey on the par-4 third with three birdies on his back nine.
“I started off pretty hot, which was big,” Johnston said. “I didn’t really hit anything super close, but I made a ton of putts and kept hitting it on the line I was trying to hit it on, and kept making them.”
Pettit, a senior in his third NCAA championship, had four birdies to offset a bogey on No. 1 to shoot 67 after a 68 in the opening round.
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