The Norman Transcript

June 22, 2013

Former Sooner Kropp squares off against his buddy at Belmar

By Clay Horning
The Norman Transcript

MOORE — How’s this for a matchup?

Will Kropp and Jordan Russell are staying in the same house this week. Friday, they drove to the course together. Today, they’ll be in the final group together, each gunning for his first professional victory.

They’re friends.

Also competitors.

What’s that like?

“We just have fun out there,” Russell said. “I mean, you’re not going to war.”

It is the OK Kids Korral Championship at Belmar Golf Club. After three days and 54 holes, Kropp, who just finished up on Ryan Hybl’s Oklahoma golf team, is 11-under par after his second straight 65. Russell, who opened with a sizzling 61 on the 6,519-yard and par 70 layout, has come back with rounds of 72 and 67 and is 10-under par.

Behind them and still in a position to challenge for first-place money of about $14,000 are Kevin Penner (67-72-62) and Jonathan Randolph (68-65-68) at 9-under par. Mark Walker (63-71-69) is 7-under and Cody Gribble (68-70-66), Blake Trimble (69-67-68) and Hudson Johnson (65-70-69) are all five strokes back at 6-under.

Kropp is playing in his second pro tournament. Russell is playing in his second final group in the space of a few weeks, having finished fifth at the Gateway Buick GMC Classic May 25 in Garland, Texas. In that event, Russell finished with a disappointing 74.

Momentum would appear to be with Kropp, who not only has the local connection of being a Sooner, but is coming off a round in which he made his own luck, spinning a lob wedge back to the hole at No. 11, a short par 3, for the fifth hole-in-one of his life, as well as one in which the golfing gods appeared very much on his side as he played the par 4 18th.

“I hit the drive really well,” he said. “I guess the wind knocked it down. I thought it was in the bunker.”

Only it carried the bunker, into native grass that was almost shoulder high in some places. Eventually, after Kropp arrived on the scene of his drive, rules official Zach Thiesing announced he had one minute left to identify his ball before having to declare it lost and return to the tee hitting three.

Fifteen seconds after that, Kropp found his ball, even in casual water, which allowed him a free drop. And in the middle of the native grass, there happened to be a small patch of hardened mud he was allowed to drop onto. From there, he hit a 9-iron “as hard as I could,” that found the green. A two-putt from almost 60 feet secured his 65.

“It was just a good break,” Kropp said.

Russell, who hit his drive down the middle, almost lost a stroke on the hole when he carried the green with his approach and chipped up from a downslope behind the green that left him about eight feet left for his par, a putt he lipped in.

Though he failed to pick up a stroke, even after Kropp’s errant drive, Russell didn’t seem bothered by it a bit as he and Kropp sat down for lunch together.

“I feel pretty good,” he said. “The first round [his 61] was great, but I’ve played pretty solid since.”

Kropp just wants to keep doing what he’s been doing.

“I’ve just made a couple more putts is all, I think,” he said. “I’ve been playing pretty well.”

Final-round tee times begin at 8 this morning. Kropp and Russell go off at 9:30 a.m.

They’re competitors, also friends.

“If we both play great, then we’ll see what happens,” Russell said. “If somebody tears it up, you’re happy for them.”

Clay Horning

Follow me @clayhorning