2010 PGA Professional National Championship
Ryan Benzel made six birdies Sunday, some of which of the spectacular variety. (The PGA of America)

Benzel rallies from rough start for even-par 70

Ryan Benzel did not get off to the start he had hoped for Sunday in the first round of the 2010 PPNC. But the 31-year-old from Bothell, Wash., rallied for a gutsy 70 on The Donald Ross Course.

By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer

FRENCH LICK, Ind. (PGA.com) -- If you take a look at Ryan Benzel's track record, it's obvious that the only thing left for him to do in the PGA Professional National Championship is win.

This week, the 31-year-old from Bothell, Wash., who is among a field of 312 competitors in the 43rd edition of the National Championship at French Lick Resort in Indiana, is attempting to do just that.

And with an even-par 70 in Sunday's opening round at the Donald Ross Course, which included six birdies, Benzel is off to a great start and well within reach of early leader Jeff Hull's 3-under 67.

"I was 3 over through four holes," said Benzel, who has finished no worse than a tie for fourth in his three previous National Championship appearances, highlighted by a tie for second in 2007. "Anytime you make six birdies though, you're hoping you're six birdies the other way, but with the wind blowing 20 mph it's hard and they're not easy shots out there. I'm sure it's just like that at the other course too. If you miss, it's going to go somewhere that's going to make things really difficult for you. So, yeah, I'm happy to be at even par. If it doesn't get windy the next three days then, perfect, I got through the windy day with even par."

Benzel was on No. 2, his 11th hole of the day, when play was suspended for just over two hours due to weather with rain coming down in buckets. Despite all the water the course took, Benzel said the conditions didn't change much when play resumed.

"When they first allowed us to come out and get warmed up again, it was pretty calm and humid like it was before the rain and the wind picked up again, which is what we played in this morning," he said. "I think the course was pretty dry. It really wasn't too soggy after all the rain that came down. The course played the same. Like my second shot on No. 2. I was hoping it would play downwind after the rain like it was going to before the rain and it did. The wind might have been a little stronger this afternoon, but that was about it."

Of Benzel's six, first-round birdies on Sunday, he said that a couple of them were out of this world.

"On 14, I was in the left fringe and - boom - knocked it in from about 45-50 feet," he said. "And then, on No. 16, the par 5, the 660-yarder, I was up on the back tier about 60 feet away, just trying to touch it and let it get down to the lower tier. It trickled down and went in. It only would have gone three inches past the hole. It was a good putt, but certainly not one that you're expecting to make."

The biggest blunder of the day for Benzel came at No. 13, a 226-yard par 3.

"I think on both golf courses, if you make one bad swing you're in trouble," he said. "Today I made one bad swing and it led to a double. I had six birdies, tossed some bogeys in there and I was actually hitting it pretty good. I hit a lot of shots in there close and made a couple of bombs that were just unreal and offset a couple of those little misses for par here and there."

Benzel plays out of the Pacific Northwest Section where he's the PGA Teaching professional at Battle Creek Golf Course in Tulalip, Wash. He said that his past experience and solid play is something that has helped him build confidence.

He may have been wide-eyed and bushy-tailed when he made that first National Championship start at Sunriver in 2007. Now, however, he's a seasoned veteran and someone who shows up and expects to contend.

"My expectations are a little different than when I played in the National Championship for the first time at Sunriver," he said. "Whether you're a past champion, or a guy that's trying to win, you always want to get off to a good start. You really can't put yourself behind the eight ball in something like this. I know I can play with the players that are out here. I'm not intimidated by anybody. I look at any name on the leaderboard and I know I can play with them. That's good to know. I've been fortunate enough to play well and to get into more competitions with those guys. It's been good and I look forward to just keep playing."

Now, Benzel heads to the Pete Dye Course where low scores were hard to come by on Sunday, for three consecutive rounds.

"I hit it pretty good in the practice rounds and in the pro-am I hit it in some spots where I don't need to hit it over the next three days, so I got that out of the way. Today's round gives me more confidence, because I hit it pretty well, I made some putts, I was able to flight my ball correctly and drive the ball well."

 

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