The Crimson linksters were within striking range of Providence after the first round of play yesterday in the NCAA New England Division One Qualifying Tournament, seven strokes behind the Friars. The Crimson was ensconsed in third place with a team aggregate of 320 strokes, one shot behind Holy Cross and tied with Dartmouth.
Only the first place finisher in the tournament gets the nod for an NCAA berth. The 36-hole event is being held at the Pleasant Valley Country Club in Sutton, Mass. where the professional tour touches down every summer to play the Pleasant Valley Classic.
Only the top two individual scorers qualify for the NCAA apart from their teams, which is the back door route by which Harvard captain Alex Vik qualified last year. Yesterday, Vik was lagging behind the pace set by Holy Cross's Fred Radcliffe, who carded a low round of 75. Vik posted a 79 but number two man Spence Fitzgibbons unfurled a splendid 76 in his NCAA bid.
The linksmen defeated both Providence and Dartmouth last weekend in a high-scoring affair at the Wollaston Golf Club but yesterday the Friars managed a series of sub-eighty sorties over Pleasant Valley with rounds of 77, 77, 78, 80, and 82.
One stroke back of the Crimson at 321 in the field of 18 New England colleges was darkhorse UNH. Yale posted a team total of 324 while last year's winner UMass floundered with a 325.
The Crimson's number four man, Dave Paxton, shot a lackluster 86 but will almost certainly improve on that today. Another major ingredient if the Crimson is to overhaul Providence is freshman Jim Dales, who has been the team's hottest player of late. Dales shot an 81 yesterday but is also expected to hone in on par.
"Providence can choke it," said fitzgibbons. "They're thinking about the NCAAs and know they are in a position to make it. When you think that way, you can pipe it."
After yesterday's first round, there was a united hue and cry over the shoddy condition of the course's greens. Although Pleasant Valley is an 18 of true championship caliber, the majority of the greens are in the midst of being aerated. The 18th green is being remodeled so that a makeshift green situated on a steep incline is being used. Any player who hits a shot onto the 18th green is therefore automatically awarded two putts. "It's really unfortunate to have a major tournament decided this way," Crimson coach Bob Donovan said yesterday.
Fitzgibbons fired his superlative round despite taking three-putt greens. "The greens were absolutely outrageous," he said. "It was deplorable." Fitzgibbons birdied three holes including the brace of treacherous par threes, the third and 16th. He holed out from 20 feet on the third, remarking, "I just tried to lag it but it went in, bounding all the way."