Three share Western Amateur lead

Writing from Northfield, Illinois

Tuesday, July 31, 2018 

While there are only three par-5s on Sunset Ridge Country Club’s course, they’re all reachable for today’s mammoth hitters, even though two are at least 555 yards in reach.

Lloyd Jefferson Go, Spencer Ralston and Matthew Walker took advantage of that on Tuesday, overpowering the course with matching 8-under-par 63s, one stroke off the course record, to share the first-round lead in the 116th Western Amateur.

Go, a two-time Big East player of the year during his stay at Seton Hall, scattered six birdies and an eagle over his card in the morning, with the eagle and a pair of birds on the par-5s.

Ralston, a junior at Georgia, suffered a bogey, but made up for it with two eagles and five birdies.

Walker, a senior at Iowa from Ottumwa, shared fifth in the Monroe Invitational and tied for sixth in the Kepler Intercollegiate earlier this year. That’s good but not great. Great was his eight-birdie outburst late in the afternoon.

Those fireworks earned the trio only a one-stroke advantage on the quartet of Chandler Phillips, Fernando Barco, Shaui Ming Wong and John Augenstein, each of whom carded 7-under 64s on a day when nearly half the field was under par and dozens more, including world No. 1 amateur Braden Thornberry, matched the par of 71 on a course designed by Bill Diddel in 1923, and, at 6,823 yards, not much longer now than the day it opened.

Go’s eagle came at the 518-yard 13th hole, where he cut the corner of the dogleg, hammered an approach on and sank the putt to go 6-under for the round. Birdies on the 15th and 16th holes moved him to 8-under, and he parred in, saving par at the 17th and two-putting from the back fringe at the last.

There are a lot of opportunities out here, especially if you drive it in the fairway,” said Go, who hails from Cebu, Phillippines.

Ralston, the first standout player in the afternoon, estimated he hit 10 fairways. He knew he hit the short grass on the seventh and 16th holes, the site of his eagles. He played the front nine in 2-under 33, but scorched the back nine in 6-under 30, with nine threes on his card overall, plus a deuce at the par-3 17th following a 15-footer for the eagle on No. 16.

“My putting got hot – just hit the ball in the fairway, and a hot putter can make up for a lot,” Ralston said. “The rough’s thick, but it’s an older golf course. If you hit it barely right, you may be in trouble, but if you hit it way right, you’re in another fairway, so just hit it over the trees. It depends on the break you get.”

Walker went without an eagle but piled up eight birdies and 10 threes in his bogey-free round to storm into a share of the lead, with a 4-under 32 on the back, his first nine and a 4-under 31 on the front, to match his best career round.

Patrick Flavin of Riverwoods and Jordan Hahn of Spring Grove, the last two Illinois Amateur winners, scored 4-under 67 and 3-under 68, respectively, with Flavin making four straight birdies before a bogey at the last. Similar rounds on Wednesday should advance them to the final 36 holes of stroke play on Thursday, which is limited to the low 44 players and ties from the field of 156. Thursday night comes the cut to the Sweet Sixteen for the commencement of match play on Friday morning.

The Western Am is the first big tournament at Sunset Ridge since the 1972 Western Open, when Jim Jamieson won with a total of 13-under-par 271. The low rounds for the week were a pair of 65s, by Tommy Aaron and Labron Harris Jr. The week’s scoring average of 73.665 was in line with other pro tournaments in the era of persimmon and balata. That era is long gone.

Tim Cronin

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