Nicholas Thompson – whose 16-year-old sister Alexis recently won on the LPGA Tour -- fired a 9-under 63 on Thursday to take the first-round lead at the Children’s Hospital Classic on the Nationwide Tour. Thompson salvaged par on his final hole late in the day, the only green he missed in regulation, and grabbed a two-stroke lead over Doug Barron, Justin Bolli, Monday qualifier Brice Garnett and Brent Delahoussaye.
Scott Dunlap, Greg Owen, Ted Potter Jr., John Mallinger, Skip Kendall and Brett Wetterich are three shots back of the leader after the opening 18 holes at the Black Creek Mountain course.
“I just hit a lot of good golf shots,” said Thompson, who got up-and-down from a greenside hazard on his final hole. “That ball was sitting on some grass so it wasn’t that hard of a shot. I rolled it really nicely today too.”
Thompson, who has been playing with different versions of a belly putter since his high school days in south Florida, made nine birdies on the day and only one that had any real length to it. His longest putt was a 30-footer that came on the par-3 seventh hole as his round came to a close. Thompson, using was he calls “an upper ab” putter, birdied three of the four par 3s but played the par 5s in just 2 under.
“Beating up the par 3s is huge because there are some tough golf shots on those holes with some changes in elevations,” he said.
Thompson is No. 61 on the money list with only four events left on the schedule, but says he isn’t worried about the numbers just yet.
“I’ve looked at it and have some predictions for what it might take to make the top 60, the top 40 and the top 25,” he said. “I do have those numbers but all I can do is look at it. I still have to go play some good golf.”
His good golf Thursday was the result of a long practice session on Monday down the road at his alma mater, Georgia Tech.
“I went down to our range at Tech and hit about five to six hours of wedges,” he said. “I hit a couple of drivers but it was all wedges and nothing more than a pitching wedge. I hit a lot of really nice wedge shots in the range of three to six feet today.”
Among those chasing the former Yellowjacket is former Georgia Bulldog Justin Bolli, who is No. 62 on the money list.
“I wasn’t hitting it very good but I was getting away with it on the front nine,” he said. “I kept getting in front of it and leaving everything out to the right. I figured it out and started hitting some good shots.”
Bolli closed his day with five birdies on his last six holes and like Thompson, isn’t worrying about the top 25 on the money list this week.
“I’m not really stressed because I’m not really close right now,” he said. “Right now I feel like I’ve got nothing to lose. It’s probably easier in that respect. Granted, I would rather be 25th on the money list than where I am.”
They’re both in much better position than Barron, who has made only three of 11 cuts this year and is way down the list at No. 191.
“This is my Tour Championship because I’m not in the rest of the tournaments,” said Barron, who has struggled to find his game since losing his PGA Tour card several years ago.
“I’ve been putting so much attention on what’s wrong. I tried not to give my bad shots so much attention and tried to give my good shots more attention,” he said. “I actually had fun playing. The thing I’ve been struggling with is me. I’ve been struggling to even have fun out here and it’s not because of the score. I’m trying to leave what’s behind, behind because it hasn’t been a good year, but that’s over and I’m trying to look forward.”
Homecoming week for Luke List got off to a rocky start. List, who grew up in the Chattanooga area, fired a 2-over-par 74 in the opening round. Despite playing his high school golf on the Black Creek Mountain course, List had problems on the greens. He three-putted four times and finished with 35 putts on the day.
“I don’t really have any excuses,” he said. “My speed was a little off. I was too firm on some putts and just hit them through the breaks. It was uncharacteristic for me and pretty frustrating. Hopefully it’s an easy fix.”
Harris English, who grew up in Georgia but attended the same prep school as Luke List (Baylor School), is also having a bit of a homecoming. English, winner of the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational in July, turned pro two weeks ago after a standout college career at the University of Georgia. He also fired a 2-over 74.
“I never really got it going today. I started playing better once I stopped forcing it,” he said. “Maybe I put a little too much pressure on myself to play well.”
English missed only two fairways but also had problems on the greens and finished with 32 putts.
John Peterson, the 2011 NCAA individual champion from LSU, is making his professional debut this week. Peterson lost a playoff to Harris English earlier this summer in Columbus, Ohio, and gained entry into this week’s event via Monday qualifying. Peterson hit 17 greens in regulation but also had 35 putts.
“I hit it good enough to shoot in the mid-60s, I just didn’t putt very well,” he said. “My speed was inconsistent. I hit one hard then I hit one soft, then I’d over-read them. It was just bad.”
Peterson admitted he felt a little bit different when his name was called by the starter on the tee today.
“It was a different feeling because it matters a little more. It’s you livelihood now,” he admitted. “It was a cool feeling but after the first or second hole, golf’s golf. You just try to get it in the hole the fastest.
--Eight of the top 11 players on the leaderboard didn’t have a bogey among them, including Nicholas Thompson, Doug Barron, Justin Bolli and Brice Garnett. Scott Dunlap, John Mallinger, Skip Kendall and Brett Wetterich were also bogey-free.
--Patrick Sheehan eagled the par-4 ninth hole, dunking a wedge from 92 yards on the hole that measures 431 yards from the back tees. He is only the fourth player in the tournament’s nine-year history to eagle that hole.
--Martin Flores (68) ran off five birdies in a row starting at No. 3. Flores started his round on the back nine and had tripled bogeyed No. 1 (his 10th hole) to drop to 1 over par. Roger Tambellini (69) also ran off five consecutive birdies starting at No. 3. Zach Sucher started his round eagle-birdie-birdie-birdie but settled for a 4-under 68.
--Andy Bare, the last player in the field, shot an even-par 72 and played his final 10 holes without making a par. Ryan Spears shot a 3-under 69 with only five pars on his card. Spears had eight birdies and five bogeys.
--The only number missing from Thursday’s scores was a 1 – there were no aces – but every other number up to 11 was posted somewhere. In addition to the majority of 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s and 6s, there were nine 7s recorded. Three players (Nicklaus Newcomb, Chris Scialo, Matt Fast) had an 8; two players had a 9 (Joachim Altonen, Jonas Blixt); one player had a 10 (Matt Hendrix) and one player made an 11 (Andrew Black).
--Andrew Black hit three balls out-of-bounds on the par-5 sixth hole and made an 11. Despite Black’s big number, the 559-yard hole was still the easiest on the course. There were 12 eagles there and only eight bogeys. The scoring average for the hole was 4.396. Black, a Monday qualifier from Chattanooga, shot an even-par 72 thanks to six birdies.
--Russell Henley (69), Aaron Watkins (69) and Chris Nallen (70) each had a pair of eagles. 104 of 144 players posted sub-par scores. Ted Potter Jr. hit all 14 fairways. Andrew Buckle, Brice Garnett and John Mallinger hit all 18 greens in regulation. Doug Barron leads in putting with only 26 putts.