By Barry Pump, Special to PGA.com
KOHLER, Wisc. (PGA.com) -- With four birdies, a bogey and a double bogey, PGA Teaching Professional Roy Biancalana, of Huntley, Ill., was set to finish just six back of leader Darren Clarke with a 1-under-par 71 Thursday in the first round of the 86th PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
When he went to sign his scorecard, however, Biancalana had to ask a rules official whether a narrow patch of sand he found himself in on the par-4 fourth hole was a bunker or whether it was just a sandy walkway. At the links-style course next to Lake Michigan, it could have been either, and the PGA itself has wondered aloud how the rules should handle the Strait Course's many sandy areas.
Biancalana had nonchalantly kicked a stick inside the area, and after 21 years of professional golf experience, he knew that if the sand was indeed a bunker he had just made a major mistake.
After nearly 30 minutes of examination with PGA Rules Committee Chairman Don Essig III, Biancalana knew that he would finish with a 73 instead of a 71. But the round would still be the best the pro has had in a tour event, let alone a major.
Biancalana had violated Rule 13-4(c) which states a player cannot "touch or move a loose impediment lying in or touching the hazard," according to Essig. The chairman later praised Biancalana for calling the penalty on himself.
"I didn't want to," Biancalana said, "but I wouldn't have slept well and I wouldn't have played well tomorrow. I had to ask them about it. I actually thought that if it didn't move, it wouldn't be an issue, but the rule book clearly states that you can't even touch it."
The pro said that it was the first time he has ever had to call a penalty on himself in competition.
"When I have penalties, they're usually obvious," he joked.
On the whole, however, Biancalana was pleased with his play outside of the one errant tee shot that led to the eventual double bogey on No. 4, giving him two for the first round.
"I played solid today," he said. "I hit a lot of fairways and greens, and made a couple of nice putts. The course didn't play too awfully hard today, and that's reflected by the scores."
Despite the penalty, the 1-over 73 was the third-best score among the 25 club professionals playing in Kohler, which is a pretty solid accomplishment for a PGA Championship rookie. Biancalana has, however, played in five U.S. Opens and several other Tour events.
"It was set up pretty reasonably," he said of the course. "I don't think it played easier [than in practice rounds]. It was just a golf course today that you could score on."
For Zane Zwemke, recording an even-par 72 at Whistling Straits may have been beginner's luck. The PGA Teaching Professional at Fitzsimons Golf Course in Aurora, Colo., though, didn't guess that he'd be in a tie with Chip Sullivan, leading his peers.
Zwemke, who posted five birdies and five bogeys for the round, dropped to 3-under after 15 holes, but when his group was put on the clock for slow play on the fifth fairway (Zwemke started on the 10th), the best he could do was bogey out.
"If someone would have said that I would have been 3-under at a point with a chance to go 5 or 6 under, I would have said, 'Well, let's wait and see,'" Zwemke said. "We had to hurry up, and you can have a bad moment when you have a bad time on the hole.
"I'm trying to make pars, and every birdie I have is like a bonus -- one I can have back."
Zwemke is playing in his first PGA Championship after having qualified in his first Club Professional Championship last June. Zwemke had to play in three playoffs to qualify for the PGA, playing five holes in the sectional qualifier, three in the regional qualifier and one in the 37th CPC in Ohio. The 41-year-old is playing in his first PGA Tour event.
Sullivan got to 3-under on the day after his third birdie on the 361-yard No. 10. But bogeys on Nos. 12, 15 and 16 brought the one-time PGA qualifier to level to close the day.
For seven CPC qualifiers at Kohler this week, Whistling Straits is familiar territory after four rounds during the CPC in 1999. But experience has been no teacher.
The average score for 1999 CPC participants is just more than 4-over, but the experience has given a few some added confidence.
"It definitely gave me added confidence," Steve Schneiter, a PGA Assistant Professional from Sandy, Utah, said. "I was playing well coming into the tournament, and I just didn't have it today. I didn't hit it the way I would have liked to have. I've been playing well, and I'm sure tomorrow I'll be better."
Schneiter finished at 3-over in the first round, carding three birdies, nine pars and six bogeys. He said that the biggest challenge he's had to face was the change in wind direction from the practice rounds. The wind was blowing straight from the north all day.
"In the Club Pro in 1999, we may have played it like that one day," he said. "It was a totally different golf course today. There was a little wind, but not what it was like in the practice rounds."
PGA Head Professional Cary Hungate, of Kokomo, Ind., recorded two birdies, 10 pars, five bogeys and a double in his first PGA since 1990, but the biggest change he's seen has been in the style of play in the PGA during his 14-year hiatus.
"People are just hitting it so much farther," he said. "Everybody hits it farther, they're in better shape. It's pretty neat to see."
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