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Division III Golf Tourney Big Step For Wheeling

Photo by Cody Tomer Mitch Lowney of Trine University putts during Day 1 of the NCAA Division III Men’s Golf Championships on the Jones Course of Oglebay on Tuesday.

WHEELING — This time last year, the golf courses at Oglebay were relatively quiet with the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on the sports world.

On Tuesday, however, links were packed with perhaps the biggest sporting event the Ohio Valley has seen since the pandemic began as the Division III NCAA Men’s Golf Championships teed off on the Jones and Palmer Courses at Oglebay.

“Four months ago, we weren’t 100 percent sure that we’d be able to do this,” Bethany athletic director and golf coach Steve Thompson, who partnered with the Presidents’ Athletic Conference and Oglebay to host the tournament, said. “Fall championships were canceled but they ultimately went ahead with winter championships — March Madness being the big one. But, really this is the first Division III Championship they’ve had with spring sports. We were really excited once they gave us the go-ahead to do it.”

As far as precautionary measures go for dealing with COVID, Thompson and the crew at Oglebay made that a priority.

“We have a COVID testing location by the Good Zoo,” Thompson said. “I had to go over there on the first day to show them my vaccine card. Otherwise, athletes had to get tested to be able to start. We’re also giving masks out everywhere and telling everyone to wear masks. Players don’t have to wear them while they are playing though.”

Defending national champion Illinois Wesleyan returns to defend its title but the hills of West Virginia are rather new to the Titans.

“I’m from Central Illinois, which is about as flat as it gets,” Illinois Wesleyan’s Jimmy Morton, who finished the first day of tournament play tied for the lead with a card of 70, said. “We played out here in the fall to kind of get used to it. The finishing stretch is tough, so I just tried to focus on my routine and my shot.

“I try not to get ahead of myself and try not to think about that last stretch.”

After taking on the daunting Jones Course on Tuesday, the defending champion Titans will move to the Palmer Course today.

“This is a tough course and the Palmer Course is the same way,” Illinois Wesleyan coach Jim Ott said. “The scores aren’t very good there either (Tuesday). It’s just a matter of being very patient and when you get in trouble, take your medicine and move on.

“The greens are what’s really tough. You look at the course and think they’re not that long. Normally, we play over 7,000 yards but it’s playing really tough and the scores are showing it (Tuesday).”

Connor Vandewege of Nebraska Wesleyan, who is also not accustomed to the mountainous course, shot an 80 on Day 1 but delivered a key putt when it mattered most on the 18th green in front of the crowd.

“It was not my best round but there are some good things to take away from it,” Vandewege said after finishing strong on 18. “It’s a fun course in my opinion. It’s super hilly and there are a lot of exciting holes, especially for us because we don’t have these hills in Nebraska. It’s definitely a different style of course but the greens were rolling pretty well considering all the rain we’ve had. It was about as good of conditions as there could have been. I like it here.”

Thompson believes the rain may have been a blessing in disguise heading into the tournament.

“I was nervous at first looking at the weather because it was pouring down rain on the first day of practice,” Thompson said. “But, now we’re going to see the course when Oglebay is at its best. It’s damp so the grass is green, the trees look good and later in the evening you’ll see deer running around the park. That’s what makes Oglebay and the Ohio Valley unique.”

Day 1 Recap

WHEELING — In search of back-to-back national titles, Illinois Wesleyan is sitting in first place after shooting a 290 (plus-6) on the Jones Course.

The Titans were led by Jimmy Morton, who shot a 70 and is tied for first with Will Hocker of Webster and Glavine Schugel of St. John’s (MN).

Carnegie Mellon’s Jason Folker tallied a 71 on Jones and is tied for fourth.

Huntingdon is second as a team, followed by St. John’s (MN). Carnegie Mellon, Piedmont, St. Thomas, University of MN, Emory and Methodist are all deadlocked in fourth.

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