Brian Keiser, of Avon, Conn., found himself dangerously close to the water on the first hole Sunday during the first round of the 43rd PGA Professional National Championship on the Pete Dye Course at the French Lick Resort. (The PGA of America)
First-Round Notes from Dye, Ross courses
Jeff Hull followed his game plan to a T, defending champion Mike Small "really pleased" with his opening 68, a sweet PPNC debut for California's Jason Owen and more.
By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
FRENCH LICK, Ind. (PGA.com) -- In three prior starts in the PGA Professional National Championship, Jeff Hull -- the PGA Teaching Professional at University of Georgia Golf Course in Athens, Ga. -- has two missed cuts and a tie for 41st.
After the first round of the 43rd National Championship at the French Lick Resort on Sunday, Hull is near the top of the leaderboard thanks to a 3-under 67 at the Donald Ross Course, just two behind leader David Paeglow.
"Last year, to be honest with you, I played as good as I did today, I just really got a bad draw," Hull said. "I got into the tough course with really bad conditions and I think only two guys in my tee time wave made the cut last year. I had a chance to make the cut last year and didn't. I had a chance to make the PGA Championship (at the 2008 PPNC) at Reynolds Plantation and just missed it. I think there's a lot of experience involved and I think today I just putted a little better. I hit solid putts, hit some good shots and I think I just game-planned it better."
The highlight of Hull's first round was an eagle on the par-4 third hole after a three-putt bogey at the first.
"On No. 3, I had a good number. I said, 'Let's just hit it behind the hole and see if it comes back.' It came back and went right in the hole for an eagle."
Shortly after the eagle, Hull had to come back to the clubhouse to sit out a 2-hour-plus rain delay. When he returned to the course on the fourth green, Hull faced a hard-breaking 45-foot birdie putt. He saved par, knocking in a six-footer.
"The rain slowed the greens down a little bit and I ended up making a nice putt there to save the par," Hull said. "Then I just hit some good shots. I had a lot of close ones. I hit a lot of them 2-3 feet from the hole for easy birdies. I had some really good two-putts and at the same time I lipped out four times. I missed about a 4-footer on No. 14. I knew it was a tough day. I knew it was going to be a grind, so I just tried to keep everything going along and hit solid shots. I hit 14-15 greens today, so I really kept it in play. I had a good game plan with my caddie and made sure we were in the right spots. If we didn't hit it close, we were in the right spots. I really didn't struggle all day."
Even though he's off to such a wonderful start, Hull wasn't about to get ahead of himself.
"It doesn't mean anything," he insisted. "It doesn't mean a darn thing. Both these courses are really tough and you just have to get birdies when you can, because you're going to make bogeys and all you can do is just try to keep it in play and hit a lot of greens. Where I stand right now, I'm excited about it. I played well. It gets my confidence up for tomorrow, but it doesn't mean anything."
DEFENDING CHAMP: University of Illinois head men's golf coach Mike Small got off to a stellar start in his title defense at the Donald Ross Course, firing a 2-under 68 that had him just three shots off the early first-round lead.
"I'm really happy," said Small, a two-time National Champion and two-time runner up. "I didn't know what to expect today and I hit it really well. I tried to hit cut shots all day and hit some good shots along the way and made a couple putts. On these greens, to shoot 68 and not get hurt on the course is good. I don't know what scores are going to be like later but I am happy with it."
Small always seems to be a contender in the National Championship. Aside from his tie for 41st showing in 2008, Small has never finished outside of the top 4 in five other appearances.
"I don't know what to expect [at the Pete Dye Course for the final three rounds]," he said. "I'm going to go out and try and hit fairways and keep the hole in front of me and don't play from the side. I have to putt better, I didn't putt the greatest today. I still shot good so I hit it well. If I can start making putts I'll be happy."
WEATHER: First-round play was suspended at both the Pete Dye and the Donald Ross Courses at 9:57 a.m. due to inclement weather, which brought about an hours worth of heavy rains to the course. Play resumed at 11:50 a.m. on the Pete Dye Course and at 12:10 p.m. on the Donald Ross Course.
Afternoon starting times were moved back two hours, 15 minutes as a result.
The heat was on in French Lick. It was a steam bath out there. Before, during and after the delay, the high temperature was upwards of 90 degrees with gusting winds around 20 mph, which -- with the humidity -- felt like a hairdryer. The "feels like" temperature was up over 100 degrees for much of the day.
Thunderstorms packing heavy rain are expected to hit French Lick hard throughout the late night and early morning hours.
While inclement weather is imminent overnight, the chances of the storm sticking around will decrease significantly as Monday wears on. There's a 50/50 chance of poor weather up until noon and the overnight weather could impact the finish of round 1 and the start of round 2 on Monday.
The good news is, once the weather clears midday on Monday, it is expected to be ideal for the remainder of the week.
ACES UP: A hole-in-one is a rare achievement. This week at the PGA Professional National Championship, the PGA of America is making it even more special and memorable.
The first player who manages to card an ace on the 195-yard, par-3 13th hole at the Pete Dye Course in the first two rounds will receive a Club Car Precedent golf cart.
For the first lucky player to record a hole-in-one on the 215-yard, par-3 16th hole in the final two rounds, the prize will be a 2010 Mercedes-Benz C300 Sport Sedan.
SWEET DEBUT: If Jason Owen, a 33-year-old PGA Professional from Marina, Calif., was at all nervous about making his National Championship debut on Sunday, it sure didn't show.
Owen, the head men's golf coach at Cal State Monterey Bay and the owner and operator of Mobile Golf Fitting Lab, put together a tidy round of 1-under 69 at the Donald Ross Course that included two birdies and just one bogey.
"The bogey on No. 3 happened because I put it in the middle of the fairway, but then I hit my approach shot in that right bunker," Owen said. "It was a basic bunker shot, really easy up and down, and I just chunked it in the bunker, you know? I don't play for a living, so I do those things. I just hit it out from there and made my bogey."
For someone who admittedly doesn't play for a living, Owen could have fooled a lot of people. The key to his first-round success was that he followed some of the advice he gives his players at Cal State Monterey Bay.
"I'm satisfied with the score," Owen said. "I always tell my guys that you have to break it down to two things: 1. How did you hit the ball? 2. How did you score? Today I didn't hit it great, but I sure did score well. Especially when you look at this golf course. It's not the type of place that's going to yield too many low numbers. It's going to be a battle out there with the conditions the way they are. It's a great course, it really is."
While this is the first time Owen is teeing it up in an event of this magnitude, he has lofty goals.
"I have one goal and that's finishing inside the top 10," he said. "It gets me to Whistling Straits and it gets me that exemption into the second stage of Tour School. Not that I'll do it, but those were my aspirations when I got here -- top 10. We'll see."
COURSE RECORDS FALL: The Competitive Course record fell at both the Donald Ross and Pete Dye Courses on Sunday.
Jeff Hull of Watkinsville, Ga., posted a 67 to top the previous record by one stroke at The Donald Ross Course.
John Aber of Pittsburgh, Pa., turned in an even-par 72 to set the new Pete Dye Course mark by one stroke.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING: Here is a sampling of some of the things PGA Professionals are saying about the first round at French Lick Resort.
Review of his round:
I birdied one, right off the bat. I made a 25-foot putt and that got my confidence going a little bit. I was hitting greens in regulation, and just trying to get to the center of the green. My putter started getting hot and I started getting more confidence.
On his eagle at No. 8:
On No. 8 I hit through the fairway into the rough and I hit a gap wedge thirty feet past the hole and it spun back into the cup for eagle. That was exciting and got me to four-under.
I tried to keep my composure and keep playing steady golf. The center of the green was the key, really not putting myself in a tough spot and short side myself or get on the wrong side of the ridge.
His thoughts on the Pete Dye Course and the people chasing him:
It was hard to tell which course would be the most difficult one. That's news to me [that Donald Ross would play easier]. the Dye can be more challenging with the distance and the wind. I was trying to make as many birdies as I could and not stop. We have a lot of golf to play. There are a lot of great goflers in this tournament and I am just trying to get as many birdies as I can. Today I had four and an eagle.
Game plan for the weekend on Pete Dye Course
I played it in April and it was wet and soggy and I only got nine holes in yesterday so I didn't play the front nine. I feel confident on a Pete Dye Course. I played well at the Ocean Course a few year's ago.
I need to hit the ball in the center of the green and make putts. That's what my goal is, to stay focused. My brother [Richard Paeglow] is caddying for me and he is keeping me grounded. He has been caddying for me for year's in these type of tournaments.
On possibly becoming the second consecutive Illinois PGA Section Champion:
It would be great. I would love to take it from [Mike] Small. I think he will be looking at me now. He has been nicey, nicey to me now. But now it's a little different story. He is a good guy!
What is essential to continuing his strong play:
Playing consistent and keep in the present. This is a first for me, to be in the lead or near the top of the leaderboard in a tournament. I have got to keep my composure, keep hitting the shots I have been hitting and putt well. Putting is key with all the slopes and undulations.
On an opening-round 3-under-par 67, his best round in nine rounds in the Championship:
I think that both courses are really tough in this Championship. Obviously, it helps to get off to a great start. I hit the ball really solid today. At the Donald Ross Course, you have severe greens and you have to know where to leave it on your approach.
So much of this Championship, the way it has changed to a bigger field, is luck. It is based on when you play. I got a favorable draw by going early.
When the rain came in, I had already teed off on No. 4, and I was facing a 45-foot breaking birdie putt before the sirens sounded. When we came back to the course, I made a very good second putt, a great putt for par. That kept my round going.
I only missed three greens all day, No. 5, 13 and 14.
Columbia City, Ind.
[Schumaker, the PGA head professional at Crooked Lake Golf Course in Columbia City, Ind., is making a record 29th appearance in the Championship. He captured the 1984 National Championship, and turned his lowest opening round since 1996. By completing a second round Monday, Schumaker will have posted 87 rounds, surpassing by one the previous mark held by Bob Ford of Oakmont, Pa.]
Could you sum up your first round?
“I shot par. It was a good round for me. I didn’t hit the ball all that well, but I chipped and putted pretty well. I kind of got away with it. Hopefully, I can hit the ball better tomorrow, but the Dye Course is a little long for me, so I’m going to have to be chipping and putting to do any good.
I'm satisfied with the round. It did not play easy out there. Any time you get a rain delay, you lose a little focus.”
On the double bogey at No. 13 and the day overall:
“I think on both golf courses, if you make one bad swing you’re in trouble. 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.
The long putts:
“On 14, I was in the left fringe and – boom – knocked it in from about 45-50 feet. 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.
On his even-par start:
“I was 3 over through four holes. Anytime you make six birdies though, you’re hoping your 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.
Conditions after the rain:
“I was on No. 2 tee when play was suspended, so I had played 10 holes. The conditions, believe it or not, were very similar. 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. 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.
How confident are you at Pete Dye:
“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.
Expectations for this week:
“They’re a little different than when I played in the National Championship for the first time at Sunriver. 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.
Locust Valley, N.Y.
Opening of the round and finishing up:
“It was a good round of golf. I hit a lot of greens, made eight pars and a birdie on the back side, which was my front. I got the rain delay right at the turn, which was good. I was right here at the house. Then I went out and birdied Nos. 2 and 4 to get it to 3 under. I missed a little 2-footer on the long par 3, No. 6. I hit the green, which was my goal, and I think I got a little relaxed after I hit the green because that’s a hard hole. I three-putted there and missed a short birdie at the par-5 seventh. I parred eight and then on No. 9 I just flared it. Flared one out into the parking lot, actually. So I doubled the last hole. It was a good up and down for double, too.
Outlook going into the weekend:
“Hopefully I’ll go over there and play good tomorrow. I want to hit it solid and I’m looking to make the cut first and foremost and then go from there. I don’t know. If it’s windy over there tomorrow it might be dicey, but I think we got the better end of the weather for sure with our draw. Hopefully I can take advantage of that.
Thoughts on an even par round:
“At 7:50 this morning if you would have said, ‘Even par, would you take it?’ I would have said absolutely. But, 3 under with four to play and three potential birdie holes coming in on those last four, to finish them in 3 over is a little disappointing. Again, though, 70 is a good score over here.
Thoughts on the Dye Course:
“I played my last two rounds here at the Ross Course. So, to go back over there – it’s a good golf course. I don’t hit it very far and I don’t think the guy that hits it very far has the advantage over there anyway because it gets real tight. I like that aspect of it. The conditions over there are really good. There will be no excuses. The greens are really good, they’re just small. It should be good.
[Head coach at Cal State University-Monterey Bay; and also is owner- operator of Mobile Golf Fitting Lab in Marina, Calif.]
Comments about his round:
“The bogey on No. 3 happened because I put it in the middle of the fairway, but then I hit my approach shot in that right bunker. It was a basic bunker shot, really easy up and down, and I just chunked it in the bunker, you know? I don’t play for a living, so I do those things. I just hit it out from there and made my bogey.
“The two birdies I made were on No. 10, I hit it to six feet and made the putt and then on No. 11, I hit it to about an inch and tapped it in. That was it. I wouldn’t say I hit it great, but it’s all about managing it around this place for sure. That’s what I was trying to do.
What are your aspirations for your first National Championship?
“I have one goal and that’s finishing inside the top 10. It gets me to Whistling Straits and it gets me that exemption into the second stage of Tour School. Not that I’ll do it, but those were my aspirations when I got here – top 10. We’ll see.
How satisfied are you finishing 1 under-par?
“I’m satisfied with the score. I’m also the golf coach for Cal State Monterey Bay and I always tell my guys that you have to break it down to two things: 1. How did you hit the ball? 2. How did you score? Today I didn’t hit it great, but I sure did score well. Especially when you look at this golf course. It’s not the type of place that’s going to yield too many low numbers. It’s going to be a battle out there with the conditions the way they are. It’s a great course, it really is.
Three rounds coming up at the Dye:
“I don’t know that there’s any kind of advantage when it comes to playing that Dye golf course. I was talking to some of my buddies yesterday. We talked about how it’s absolutely a ball-striker’s course. I don’t foresee anybody going out and shooting a super low number there. You’re going to have to strike the ball well and miss it in the right spots. It’s not going to be about your good shots there. Everybody will hit good shots. It’s going to be about the misses. If you miss in the right spot, you’re going to be OK. If you don’t, you could be there all day. That’s just how it is.
St. Louis, Mo.
On his opening-round 68:
“I wasn't feeling real well this morning. Just to get around this golf course with this wind under-par is pretty good. The greens are as undulated as can be; you don't have a level putt anywhere. Even your tap-ins has a little break in them. 68 was good and I am happy.
I have been to the National Championship the last five years and made the top-20 go get into the PGA Championship two times. I just need to keep plugging along and see what happens.”
What were the highlights of your round?
“Started of on No. 10 with a birdie, a nice little 10-footer downhill. I made a bogey on No. 15 and finished that side even.
Then I birdied two and three -- hit it to a foot at two and made an eight-footer on three. Birdied five with a lucky putt from about 20 feet. It's running sideways and straightened out and went in.
Caught a little hiccup on nine, caught a little flyer. I am not disappointed at all though. The putt at six probably should not have gone in so it all evens out in the end.”
On playing the final two rounds on the Pete Dye:
That is a hard golf course at Pete Dye. I like it a lot. I have played nine holes here and there the past couple of days. Being from St. Louis, I got in a few practice rounds in May and two weeks ago. I got a lot of good information.
“Just go out there, keep the nerves quiet and I will be all right.”
[Note: Small, the 2005 and 2009 National Champion, is making his seventh PGA Professional National Championship appearance. He has finished in the top 4 in five of the previous Championships.]
On his opening-round 68:
“I am really happy. I didn’t know what to expect today and I hit it really well. I tried to hit cut shots all day and hit some good shots along the way and made a couple putts.
On these greens, to shoot 68 and not get hurt on the course is good. I don't know what scores are going to be like later but I am happy with it.”
On his play before and after the rain:
“I only played five holes before the rain and birdied the next hole after we went out after the delay so it wasn't too bad. I really don't spin the ball much so the rain didn’t bother me much; I wasn’t going to spin it off the green.
On playing the Pete Dye and his thoughts heading into the final three rounds:
I don’t know what to expect. I am going to go out and try and hit fairways and keep the hole in front of me and don’t play from the side. I have to putt better; I didn’t putt the greatest today. I still shot well so I hit it well. If I can start making putts I will be happy.”