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When Greg Odom Jr.’s approach shot at the 18th hole at Union League Liberty Hill hit the pin and began bouncing away from the hole, it seemed his chances of earning a share of the first-round lead at the 35th PGA WORKS Collegiate Championship were rolling away with the ball Monday.
But Howard University’s top-ranked golfer embraced his bad luck and made a purposeful 25-foot putt for birdie to not only tie teammate Everett Whiten Jr. for the individual lead at 3-under 69, but the putt also lifted Howard to within one shot of Texas Southern in the Men’s Division I team competition.
“The 18th is always a three-shotter for me,” Odom said. “I was just trying to hit it close and it hit the pin. Luckily, I was able to make the putt.”
The two Bison men were one stroke better than William O’Connor of Texas Southern, Patrick Mwendapole of Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Devansh Chadha of Texas Southern, who sit 2 under after the opening round.
Texas Southern leads the Division I Men’s Team Division at 1 over with Howard at 2 over and Florida A&M at 5 over.
The PWCC features 202 players and 30 teams representing Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-serving institutions and other minority-serving institutions from across the nation.
Sponsored by PGA WORKS, Comcast, The Union League of Philadelphia and Bank of America, the 54-hole stroke-play tournament is being contested in five Divisions at two courses, Liberty Hill and The Union League Golf Club at Torresdale.
On a day that started with clouds and ended with plenty of sun, Division II Men's Division defending team champion Miles College took the first-round lead at 23 over, while Lincoln University is 24 over.
Christian Copen of Miles College is the individual leader in Division II, shooting a 1-over 71 at Torresdale, one shot better than Travon Willis of Virginia Union.
In the Women’s Team Division, Delaware State is tied with defending champion Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at 30 over with Chicago State third at 43 over. Kelli Dugan, a senior playing in her final college tournament, is the individual leader in the Women’s Division after shooting 3 over at Torresdale.
“If I’m hitting like I was hitting today, I should be pretty good,” Dugan said of her hopes for her second round to be played at Liberty Hill.
Odom called his round at Liberty Hill, “pretty good boring golf.” He wasn’t joking. “I just want to try to hit the fairway, then try to hit the green and then try to make the putt.”
Odom had what he called a “slow start,” playing the front nine in 1 under after a birdie at the par-5 ninth. He added another birdie at the par-4 10th to stand at 2 under. But a bogey at the 11th stalled his momentum, and he played the next five holes even before closing with birdies at the par-3 17th and the par-5 18th.
Odom, a senior from Memphis, Tennessee, has an exemption into the PGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship beginning Thursday in Potomac, Maryland.
“I’m preparing for that right now,” he admitted. “I’m trying to hit the best shots I can hit and stay level headed throughout the 54 holes.”
Whiten used birdies at the par-4 15th and the par-5 16th to get to 3 under where he stayed. Despite his score, Whiten felt disappointed, needing 33 putts to manage his score.
“I could have putted better,” he said. “The course is gettable. If you’re hitting your numbers, you need to take advantage when you can. I hit the ball decent, but I didn’t capitalize when I was supposed to.”
O’Connor was 3 under before a bogey at the 18th dropped him one stroke behind the leaders, along with TSU teammate Devanish Chadha, who is also 2 under. O’Connor was 4 under after eight holes before a bogey at the par-5 ninth. He remained at 3 under until a three-putt bogey at the 18th dropped him a stroke behind the leaders.
“The bogey was disappointing, but that’s the way it goes,” he said. He couldn’t complain much after making a 60-foot putt to save par at the 14th.
Howard coach Sam Puryear, whose men’s team captured its first ever MEAC title last week, was pleased with its performance after what he called a “lackluster” practice round.
“The guys played within themselves,” he said. “It was rainy and cold when we started. But we stayed patient because we knew it was going to be a long day. Every single guy at one point in the round played well.”
Many of the players were treated to photos and a brief chat with Gary Player, the golf legend who designed Liberty Hill. Player told the contestants, “Golf has allowed me to be with Presidents and people in poor villages. Golf is an education you can never explain.”