As he sized up a 25-foot putt last Saturday, La Salle University freshman Kevin Lydon knew exactly what was on the line: a stupidly low round.
His eagle try on the 18th green at Shuttle Meadow Country Club, in Connecticut, in the first round of the Ryan T. Lee Memorial was for 60, a number recorded only a handful of times at the collegiate level.
Lydon, playing in his first-ever college round, did his best not to think about it.
“I like to stay in the present on a golf course and not think about the past or future, because that’s when you start playing bad golf,” Lydon told GOLF.com. “So you stay in the present and focus on one shot at a time and that’s how you do your best.”
The putt came up just short, stopping a few heartbreaking inches in front of the hole. Dead center.
But Lydon still may have made history with his 10-under-par 61, La Salle head coach Scott Yurgalevicz quickly realized.
“[We] reached out to the NCAA and they told us to take a look at Golfstat,” Yurgalevicz said of the ratings and rankings database that serves as the official scorer for all NCAA Championships. “They have millions of rounds — it’s really hard to determine if a round of 61 or even lower than that 60 was ever shot by a freshman.
“We know that no freshman ever shot lower than 61. So we can at least confirm we have one 61. And it’s Kevin Lydon’s.”
Lydon’s opening round also is believed to be the lowest round ever shot by a player in their first collegiate round, Yurgalevicz said. The mark also shattered La Salle’s scoring record of 65.
It’s hard for any coach to see a 61 coming — especially from a player at a small, private university outside of Philadelphia — but Yurgalevicz said he knew Lydon was in a good spot with his game coming into his first college season.
Lydon, who is from Doylestown, Pa., notched a strong finish at the Philadelphia Amateur over the summer, defeating a couple other college players from the Philadelphia area before losing in the quarterfinals.
“That’s when I think he decided he belonged at this level,” Yurgalevicz said. “He knew he could play and you could kind of see there was a difference in how he operated on the golf course. He knew he belonged.”
Yurgalevicz does not have an assistant coach, so at the Lee Memorial he was flying solo trying to ensure each of his five players had what they needed during the round. Yurgalevicz didn’t know the heater Lydon was on Saturday until midway through the day.
“I saw Kev make the turn,” Yurgalevicz said. “He gives me the indicator that he’s, like, five under. I actually thought initially when he told me he was five over. When Yurgalevicz realized Lydon was actually five under, Yurgalevicz said he thought to himself, “He’s doing a great job. He’s managing himself at his first-ever college event. And I get up to talk to him for a minute, make sure he’s good, doesn’t need anything.’”
The coach didn’t want to meddle.
“When a pitcher’s throwing a no-hitter, you just make sure they’re okay,” he said. “And if they need anything, pat him on the back, give him a water and, you know, just make sure they’re still doing the right thing.
“He just kept hitting the ball right in the middle of fairway, hitting greens, rolling in 15-footers. It was just a clinic on how to putt 8-footers, 10-footers, 25-footers.”
Yurgalevicz didn’t realize how much red was on Lydon’s scorecard until he overheard another player in the group tell his coach that Lydon’s putt on 18 was for 60.
“He’s just a really quiet kid,” Yurgalevicz said.
The putt to become the 17th male player to shoot 60 in an NCAA event (no player has broken 60) was not to be, but Lydon feels like his round showed his potential.
“It shows what I’m capable of, which is nice,” he said. “And I feel like it shows being mentally prepared can do a lot for you on a golf course.”
In what might be a shocker to the parents of most 18-year-olds, Lydon actually did some reading to prepare for his first college tournament. He picked up two books written by sports psychologist Bob Rotella: “Putting Out of Your Mind” and “Golf is Not a Game of Perfect.”
“I thought it would help me, and it did,” he said.
Lydon wasn’t able to continue his hot play into Sunday’s second (and final) round. His 76 dropped him from a three-stroke lead to finishing fifth, five strokes behind the winner.
He hasn’t let the finish bother him, though, taking the weekend as a learning experience.
“I think it’s very difficult and it was my first time doing it,” Lydon said. “So now I know what to expect.”
What Lydon couldn’t have expected was the chance encounter he had at his own Philadelphia-area club just a few days later.
On the driving range on Tuesday, Lydon ran into Hall of Famer Gary Player, who was quick to dole out some advice.
“It was a cool experience,” Lydon said. “He talked to me and my teammate Anthony Garcia about how there’s so many other players out there from all over the country that are doing the same thing you’re doing. You just have to do it better if you want to keep going and playing.”
When Lydon told Player about his round over the weekend, he said Player told him that Player actually had never gone that low in a tournament. Player’s best mark came in a duel with Jack Nicklaus when they both shot 62.
Then Player did the unexpected again, especially considering La Salle isn’t exactly a golf powerhouse.
“I got his email, and he wants us to email our school scores this coming season,” Lydon said. “That means a lot.”
Not a bad way to start your freshman year.