PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – Ryan Botts of Lebanon, Tennessee, J.P. Griffin of Sugar Hill, Georgia, Jesse Massie of Louisville, Kentucky and Chris Mory of Haslett, Michigan, each took advantage of docile conditions on the Wanamaker Course Thursday morning to post a 6-under-par 66 and share the first-round lead in the 41st National Car Rental Assistant PGA Professional Championship.
The sizzling foursome, who started among the first six groups of the morning wave, set an impressive target score among a field of 132 representing 38 states at PGA Golf Club. They are competing for a total purse of $133,000 and a first-place prize of $12,000.
Callum McNeill of Cypress, Texas, and Benjamin Cook of Caledonia, Michigan, are a shot back at 67; followed by a quartet at 68, featuring Derek Berg of Duvall, Washington; Jordan Gibbs of Philadelphia; Billy Stewart IV of Devon, Pennsylvania; and Ryan Zylstra of Richmond, Virginia.
MORE: Round 1 scores from Assistant PGA Pro Championship | Full coverage | Photos
Botts and Massie each made their championship debut, while Griffin made his third trip and Mory his second straight appearance.
Massie, the Kentucky PGA Assistant Champion and an Apprentice Professional at Hurstbourne Country Club in Louisville, collected four birdies and eagled the 494-yard par-5 16th hole after hitting an 8-iron from 170 yards to three feet.
“It’s definitely a confidence booster,” said Massie. “I was blessed to be paired with someone (Griffin), who was playing well. We fed off each other on the back nine. Sometimes it’s great to be with another player who is going low. You want to stay with him.”
Griffin, the Georgia PGA Assistant Champion in his first year at Capital City Club in Atlanta, made the most of his third appearance by making six birdies in a bogey-free performance. “I feel that when winter starts, I’m ready to play my best golf,” Griffin said.
Starting his round on No. 10, Mory found his rhythm by rolling home a 50-foot birdie putt on the par-3 11th hole and adding seven more birdies. That offset bogeys on Nos. 2 and 14.
"It’s nice to get off to a good start in the morning before the heat arrived," said Mory, an apprentice professional at Jason Guss Golf Academy at Hawk Hollow in Bath Township, Michigan.
Botts, a PGA Assistant Professional at Old Hickory Country Club outside Nashville, grabbed the last of three qualifying berths from the Tennessee PGA Section. He arrived at the Wanamaker Course earlier this week to make an astute observation. “You’ve got to pay attention to the grain in these greens,” he said, “and you must get your ball in the fairway, pick out your lines and trust them.”
It was evident Botts was a quick study by making seven birdies against a bogey on No. 10, when his approach shot flew five yards over the green. He ignited his round by rolling in a 20-foot birdie putt on the third hole.
Meanwhile, three-time Assistant Professional Champion Frank Bensel of Purchase, New York, recorded his seventh competitive hole-in-one on his way to a 69. In his 17th season as PGA Assistant Professional at Century Country Club, Bensel used an 8-iron to ace the 172-yard, No. 6 hole.
The field will be trimmed Friday evening to the low 70 scorers and ties. The Championship concludes Sunday.
Begun in 1977, the Assistant PGA Professional Championship has marked a tradition of excellence in bringing together some of the most talented players in the PGA of America.
The National Car Rental Assistant PGA Professional Champion, if eligible, will earn a berth in the 2018 PGA Professional Championship. In addition, the top-4 finishers and ties will earn a berth in the 2018 National Car Rental Assistant PGA Professional Championship, if eligible.
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