On June 5, Oklahoma State’s Austin Eckroat stunned the Oklahoma community by firing a course-record, 10-under-par 61 on the renowned Oak Tree National Course in Edmond.
By three shots, he obliterated the former record shared by former OSU Cowboy stars Scott Verplank and Bob Tway. An Edmond native, Eckroat benefited from world-class talent and the course knowledge that comes from having regularly played at Oak Tree for five years.
By shooting a 61, Eckroat became an Oak Tree legend.
“We once lived at Oak Tree,” says Oklahoma City television sports anchor Dean Blevins, “and I’d see Austin and his dad play all the time. I could tell early on that Austin would be special, but a 61 at Oak Tree National is otherworldly.”
From that achievement, Eckroat rolled to Tulsa for his next challenge: his first round of golf at Southern Hills Country Club.
Ranked among the 20 best amateurs on the planet and among the 10 best in the U.S., Eckroat was the headliner during Monday’s inaugural Oklahoma Junior Masters — an event created for the state’s elite college and high school players whose spring golf season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
As an 8-year-old, Eckroat was at Southern Hills to watch Tiger Woods match the course record with a 63.
By shooting a 62 at Southern Hills, Eckroat would become an Oklahoma sports legend.
He eventually might get a Southern Hills 62, but during a 93-degree Monday afternoon Eckroat finished with a 4-over 75 and trailed the Junior Masters Alumni group winner — OU’s Logan McAllister — by two strokes.
“It was different than I expected. It was amazing,” Eckroat said of the Southern Hills course, which has hosted seven major professional championships and will host the 2021 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship and the 2030 PGA Championship. “The greens are big, but they don’t play big.
“(The course) is just as good as I thought it was going to be, if not better. I haven’t played on greens this fast in a long time.”
Southern Hills may be the most difficult golf course in the Central time zone.
“I really had no chance, playing it blind,” said Eckroat. “I had no idea what the green complexes were like.
“Some courses, you can get out on it for the first time and play well, but this is not one of those courses.”
Thousands of players have played Southern Hills, but there were only two 63s: eventual champion Raymond Floyd got his during the opening round of the 1982 PGA Championship; and eventual champion Woods got his during the second round of the 2007 PGA Championship.
Floyd and Woods played from the blue tees. From the tips. On Monday, the college guys played from the tips. As most club members play from the white tees, about 600 yards in distance is shaved from the course.
In the 84-year history of the course, from the blue tees or the white ones, no Southern Hills member ever has scored a 63. Only Floyd and Woods.
Until Eckroat and I talked on Sunday, he wasn’t aware that 63 is the gold standard at Southern Hills. On June 5, he wasn’t aware until after having shot a front-side 29 that the Oak Tree National record was 64.
“I’ve gotten more congratulations on (the Oak Tree 61) than I did after a lot of my other accomplishments,” Eckroat said. “It’s been cool.”
Before the pandemic, Eckroat planned to follow the 2020 spring season by launching the process of becoming a professional. Q-School was canceled. There is no qualifying event, so Eckroat has decided to play one more season of college golf. OSU benefits from the unexpected return of a player who anchors a national-title-contending team.
Eventually, Eckroat will return to Southern Hills. If he plays and scores well, it’ll be a natural storyline — reflecting on his 75 of Monday.
“Very humbling,” he said.
It’ll be an amazing storyline if one day he gets that elusive Southern Hills 62.