PGA Pros enjoy big stage at PGA Professional Championship

By
Mike Zhe
Portsmouth Herald, N.H.

Series: PGA Tour

Published: Sunday, June 18, 2017 | 11:04 p.m.

The biggest golf tournament Rico Riciputi's ever played in didn't start off badly at all.

Riciputi, the director of instruction at Wentworth By The Sea in Rye, played his first six holes at the PGA Professional Championship at 1-under on Sunday in Sunriver, Ore., before some big numbers after that dragged him down the leaderboard.

Still, the 29-year native of Rollinsford is enjoying the opportunity to compete with the best club pros in the nation in a 72-hole event that will conclude on Wednesday.

PGA Professional Championship: Leaderboard | Photo Gallery

"They treat it like it's a tour event," he said by phone Sunday evening. "You get all kinds of gifts when you show up, your club sponsors are there. It's the highest (level) I've played in, for sure."

His round of 7-over par 79 left him 12 shots off the lead held by Loren Personett of Nashville, Tenn.

"First time out, it's a little tough to be settled," said Riciputi. "You've got the TV cameras and crews, and a lot of eyes on you."

It was another 29-year-old from New Hampshire who continued to make waves in this event.

Defending champion Rich Berberian Jr., who last year rolled in a 33-foot putt on the final hole to win the biggest title of his life, sits alone in second place, one shot off the lead, after opening with a 4-under 67.

"It's a lot different being here as the defending champion," said Berberian, a Derry native, afterward. "I had a pretty good attitude today. It didn't really matter to me what I shot this week; it was more so just being happy to be out here and playing. That freed me up a lot because I was pretty nervous coming into the week as the defending champion and wanting to do good."

Berberian won the New England PGA Championship when it was held at the Golf Club of New England in Stratham in 2014, and has played in two PGA Tour events this season, making the cut at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February.

RELATED: Rich Berberian begins title defense with 4-under round at Sunriver

"I'm happy that he played well," said Riciputi. "(New Englanders) had kind of a tough day overall, so it was great to see him play like he did."

The only person to shoot lower than Berberian on Sunday was the 52-year-old Personett, a nine-time Tennessee PGA Player of the Year, who shot 5-under.

"It feels good to get off to a nice start, but there's a long ways to go," said Personett. "A long ways."

The top 20 finishers will earn a spot in the field for the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., Aug. 10-13. Along with a spot in the PGA Championship field, the winner will earn a berth on the 2017 PGA Cup team, win $50,000 and will also have six PGA Tour exemptions to be used over the next 12 months.

To qualify for the PGA Professional Championship, Riciputi had to finish among the top 14 at last year's New England PGA in Plymouth, Mass. He splits his year between Wentworth, where he's in his second year on the staff, and Orlando, Fla., where he is an instructor with the McCord Golf Academy.

RELATED: What's at stake at the PGA Professional Championship

On Sunday, he triple-bogeyed the 219-yard, par-3 8th hole and made two double-bogeys on the back nine.

"Approach shots were a problem," he said, asked about which part of his game let him down.

The field will be cut to the low 90 players plus ties after Monday's second round, with the low 70 surviving the cut after Round 3.

"I think (my) number's going to have to be 4-under," said Riciputi. "But it's possible."

This article is written by Mike Zhe from Portsmouth Herald, N.H. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.