Kevin Chappell celebrated his 24th birthday in style on Thursday. The former UCLA All-American was nearly perfect in posting an 11-under par 61 in the opening round of the Ford Wayne Gretzky Classic, the halfway point of the 2010 Nationwide Tour season.
Chappell missed only two fairways and two greens during his opening round at the Raven Golf Club (RA), one of two courses being utilized in the pro-am format for this event.
“My putter was hot. It’s not like I was hitting it inside the leather all day,” he said. “I kept leaving myself 15-footers for birdie and the hole looked really big.”
The 2008 Jack Nicklaus Award winner owns a two-stroke lead after the weather-delayed opening day. Rookie Zack Miller, playing in the final group at the host Georgian Bay Club (GB), used a pair of eagles for a 9-under par 62 and a share of second place with fellow rookie James Hahn, who closed with seven birdies in his final 10 holes for a career-best 9-under 63 (RA). The two northern Californians also happen to be roommates this week.
Justin Hicks, winner of the inaugural event here in 2008, stumbled with a late bogey to finish at 8-under 64 (RA) along with Canadian Adam Hadwin, who had eight birdies and hit 17 greens in regulation for his 64 (RA). Bobby Gates, winner of the year’s first event in New Zealand, carded a 7-under 65 (RA) and is in fourth place with veteran Scott Dunlap, who posted a 7-under 64 at the Georgian Bay Club (GB), which serves as the host course.
There are six players at 6 under par, including Chris Nallen (RA) who is paired with tournament host and hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky.
Chappell got off to a blazing start with five straight birdies on the back nine. After a par at No. 15, his sixth hole, he reeled off three more birdies for a nine-hole score of 28.
“When I made the turn at 8 under, I turned to my caddie and said, ‘when do you think the media will show up,’” he said. “You always want to play well on your birthday. Hopefully it’s a sign of good things to come for this year.”
Chappell would have liked to celebrate with his family, but they didn’t make the trip from the West Coast.
“I was probably 8 under before they woke up,” he chuckled.
After eight birdies in nine holes, Chappell admitted he had to stay focused on the game, and not the numbers.
“The thought of shooting 59 obviously crosses your mind, but the goal isn’t to shoot 59, it’s to win the golf tournament,” he said. “I know what won here last year. It took 20 under to win so the goal is to keep making birdies and not stop until you get there. For me, it’s more of the end result. We have a long way to go to accomplish that but it’s nice to start off with a clean scorecard while keeping the foot on the gas pedal.”
Hahn, the closest pursuer, took a while to get rolling during his morning session at the par-72 layout.
“My round really got started when I birdied the ninth hole,” said Hahn. “Once I made the turn, it seemed like I made birdie on every other hole. Obviously when you shoot 63, you’re going to feel like you’re making birdies everywhere. I didn’t realize how many I had for the round until I was on the 18th tee. I told myself to stay focused and finish strong.”
Hahn closed with a par for his 63, three better than his low round of the year.
“I have to give credit to my caddie today because he knew what lines to take off the tees out here,” said Hahn after hitting 11 of 13 fairways. “I have a tendency to read too much into my shots and he didn’t allow it.”
First-Round Notes: Players/teams will switch courses for Friday’s second round. The low 60 professionals (and ties) will play both weekend rounds at the Georgian Bay course. ... The 160 pro-am teams will be cut to exactly the low seven “celebrity” teams and exactly the low five regular teams after 36 holes. Those teams will compete in both the third and fourth rounds. The winning team will each receive a 2011 Ford Fiesta following play on Sunday. … In the pro-am portion of the event, Chris Kamin and partner Bob McCown shot a 15-under 57 (RA) in the best-ball format and hold a one-stroke lead over Jesse Hutchins and partner Sandy Edmonstone (RA). Six teams are tied for third at 12 under including the team Gavin Coles and hockey star Marty McSorley (RA) and Jamie Lovemark and Janet Gretzky (RA).
Kevin Chappell’s 8-under 28 matched the third-lowest 9-hole score in Nationwide Tour history. Notah Begay (1998 Dominion Open) and Doug Dunakey (1998 Miami Valley Open) both posted 9-hole scores of 27 en route to shooting 59s. Chappell is the 28th player in Tour history, and the fifth this year, to shoot a score of 28. Other to card scores of 28 in 2010: Ryan Armour (BMW Charity Pro-Am), Kevin Kisner (Panama Claro Championship), Michael Clark II (Fresh Express Classic) and Scott Gutschewski (BMW Charity Pro-Am).
Chappell opened his round with 5 straight birdies on the back nine at Raven GC. The Tour record for most consecutive birdies to begin a round is 7, set by Rocky Walcher at the 2000 Wichita Open. … Chappell’s 61 matches the lowest 18-hole score on the Nationwide Tour this year. He joins Keegan Bradley (BMW Charity Pro-Am) and Nathan Smith (Fort Smith Classic) in that category. His 11-under round is the best in relation to par this year – Bradley was 10 under for his round and Smith was 9 under for his. … Chappell’s 61 matches Kyle Reifers’ 11-under 61 in the opening round at Raven last year. Reifers held a four-stroke lead after the initial 18 holes.