Apparently the players didn’t get the memo that told them this week’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational would be played on the hallowed ground at The Ohio State University’s Scarlet Course, a place where par is sacred, birdies are harder to find than needles in haystacks and the winning score hovers in single digits.
Instead of battling their way around one of the most difficult layouts on the Nationwide Tour, the field just decided to wash the leaderboard in more red numbers than folks have seen around Columbus in a while.
Veteran Jonathan Kaye, who hadn’t set foot on the famed fairways since his college days at the University of Colorado in the early 1990s, blistered the layout with seven birdies and an eagle en route to setting a new course record with his 8-under 63.
Granted, the course has been softened by rain earlier in the week, allowing the majority to abandon their fears and settle into a customary approach of attacking every possible flag.
Scott Brown, playing in the morning, matched the old course record with a 6-under 65 and held the clubhouse lead for much of the day.
“This is a very good golf course,” said Brown, who never played it in college and is seeing it for the first time. “The greens are soft and it gives you a chance to be a little more aggressive but you have to take some chances, too.”
Nick Flanagan, D.J. Brigman, William McGirt and Tjaart van der Walt all posted 5-under 66s to share third place, three back of Kaye, who was one shy of his career best score.
Seven players are knotted with 67s, including Daniel Summerhays, who won this tournament as an amateur three years ago with a score of 6 under par for 72 holes.
“It was a fun day for me,” said Kaye, who got a boost when he dunked his second shot for an eagle-2 at the par-4 ninth hole. “I had a nice number and just tried to smooth an 8-iron 164 yards. The ball had eyes on it when it hit on the green. It went dead left, right in the cup.”
There was a lot of that ‘right in the cup’ happening on day one: Brown holed a pair of 40-foot putts, one of them for an eagle; Flanagan missed half the fairways and holed a chip shot for an eagle on one par-5; McGirt set a season-low and also holed out from off the green for an eagle.
Thursday’s opener produced 10 eagles, including the second hole-in-one in the tournament’s four-year history. Last year there were a total of eight eagles -- for the entire week.
The best of the bizarre belonged to Brigman, had an improbable 5 at the 618-yard sixth hole. He skulled his third shot from 120 yards in a fairway bunker and watched it race over the green and bury itself into the back face of another bunker.
“I was just trying to figure out my best way to make bogey and give myself a shot,” he said, trying to illustrate his awkward stance. “I thought if I landed it on the green it might go all the way down the front. I was just hoping to get lucky and keep it on the green.”
His fourth shot never left the sand but it seemed to make sense that number five would end up in the cup for a par.
“I wouldn’t say it’s the hardest par I’ve ever made but it was certainly one of the craziest. That was a double-sandy, so that has to be worth triple points or something,” he said with a laugh. “It’s funny because I hadn’t chipped a shot in all year. I think I’m the last guy out here to chip one in this year. I’m counting it as a chip-in.”
It was that kind of day.
A total of 50 players broke par, 76 players posted par-or-better scores and the scoring average was 71.417. There were only 45 sub-par scores turned in during the opening round of the event in 2007 and 2008 combined.
Maybe they’ll get the memo on Friday.
First-Round Notes: Camilo Benedetti had a hole-in-one at the par-3 eighth hole. Benedetti used a 5-iron on the 200-yard hole. It was his fourth career ace, all in competition. … Leading money-winner Tommy Gainey, who finished 27 under par while winning last week’s Chiquita Classic in Cincinnati, shot a 1-over-par 72. … Trevor Murphy grabbed some attention earlier in the week after shooting a 56 during one of the tournament’s pro-am events. Murphy played Tuesday at the adjacent Gray Course and posted a 14-under score that included 12 birdies and an eagle. The Gray Course plays to a par 70 at 5,800 yards with five of the 10 par 4s measuring less than 326 yards. The longest par 4 is only 400 yards and one of the three par 5s plays to only 460 yards.