Rhea shot a 5-under-par 67 on the course where he grew up, helping the Bucs stay within shouting distance of first-round leader Tennessee in the 22nd annual Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate at Blackthorn Club.
“In the past, I think he’s felt a little bit of pressure playing here just because of the expectations,” first-year ETSU coach Jake Amos said. “We worked on having a different mentality, treating it like playing in the club championship. He knows this course better than anybody else, so we just left him to it and I think he’s feeling more comfortable now.”
The Vols shot 15 under par to grab a one-shot lead over Louisville. ETSU, the defending champion, shot 7 under and was in sixth place after the first round.
The field took advantage of perfect scoring conditions to go low. Thirty-eight players broke par on the 7,147-yard Arthur Hills layout and 18 of them were in the 60s.
Tennessee coach Brennan Webb celebrated his 45th birthday by coaching his team into the first-round lead. Webb, who played at ETSU, watched his team post four sub-par rounds, including 67s by Chip Thomas and Hunter Wolcott and a 68 by Spencer Cross.
“They were all wishing me a happy birthday this morning,” Webb said. “This is a pretty good present.
“I told them just to be patient, take the birdies when they come. There’s plenty of birdie opportunities out there.”
Benjamin Shipp of North Carolina State shot 65 to grab the individual lead. He played on the back nine in 6 under.
Louisville’s John Murphy and UNC Wilmington’s Segundo Oliva Pinto both shot 66.
Rhea had one bogey to go with his six birdies, and his short birdie putt on the 18th hole capped a 3-under back nine.
“I had good control of my speed on the greens and I had good distance control of my irons and wedges,” Rhea said. “It was a pretty stress-less round of golf. I put it in the fairway, kind of hit it to 15, 20 feet all day and just birdied the holes I was supposed to.”
Also for ETSU, Shiso Go posted a 70, Archie Davies and Trevor Hulbert each had a 72 and Samuel Espinosa shot 76. Austin Carter, playing as an individual, shot 72.
Furman was in third place at 11 under, followed by UNC Wilmington and N.C. State at 8 under.
The second round of the 54-hole tournament is scheduled for Saturday, and Amos reminded the Bucs they could make up that eight-shot deficit in a hurry if they get on a roll.
“The message today is, ‘How many times do you see on the PGA Tour that someone is six or seven back heading into the weekend and wins?’ ” Amos said. “We know what the course is going to be like. We know how to make birdies. Come out hot tomorrow, that’s the goal, and then it’s just keep the foot down.”
Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate
At Blackthorn Club
Par 72, 7,147 yards
Friday’s first round
UNC Wilmington 280
N.C. State 280
Coastal Carolina 282
Ole Miss 285
East Carolina 285
Penn State 287
Virginia Tech 288
Virginia Commonwealth 299
Benjamin Shipp, N.C. State 65
John Murphy, Louisville 66
A. Segundo Olivia Pinto, UNCW 66
Keller Harper, Furman 67
Jack Rhea, ETSU 67
Chip Thomas, Tennessee 67
Hunter Wolcott, Tennessee 67
Spencer Cross, Tennessee 68
Reynolds Lambert, Furman 68
Blake Taylor, East Carolina 69
Zack Taylor, Coastal Carolina 69
Alec Bard, Penn State 69
Mark Lawrence, Virginia Tech 69
Max Steinlechner, N.C. State 69
Christofer Rahm, UNCW 69
Wei Wei Gao, Virginia 69
Keegan DeLange, Louisville 69
Trevor Johnson, Louisville 69
Other ETSU golfers
x-playing as individual
Shiso Go (t19) 70
Archie Davies (t39) 72
X-Austin Carter (t39) 72
Trevor Hulbert (t39) 72
Sam Espinosa (t68) 76