However, one player has ties to Newton that are
as deep as the roots of the cottonwood, Kansas’ state tree. Although Chase
Hanna is from the eastern part of the state in Leawood, a suburb of Kansas
City, Mo., his ancestors played a key role in the early development of Newton,
which was founded in 1871.
In 1887, his great-great-grandparents, John
Axtell and Lucena Chase Axtell, both physicians, founded the town’s first
hospital, and the Axtell Clinic is still part of the Newton Medical Center. The
Axtells’ youngest daughter, Marian, married George Hanna, and many of their
descendants still live in Newton. Chase’s father, William, grew up there before
settling in the Kansas City area after law school.
Chase had played Sand Creek Station many times,
both in competition – the course has hosted the Kansas Stroke Play Championship
since 2011 – and during casual rounds while visiting his grandparents, who
moved to Colorado last year. But the University of Kansas sophomore had never
played it under the conditions he faced during the first round of stroke-play
qualifying, in which he shot 78.
“I never played it with the north wind,” said
Hanna, 19, who won both the Kansas Amateur and Junior Amateur in 2013. “It
really picked up on the back nine. It made the course feel different.”
The rarely encountered wind direction negated
much of the potential advantage that Hanna and the other players familiar with
the course might have enjoyed.
“It was really hard this afternoon, because
every shot was into a crosswind,” said Michael Gellerman, who shot 74 after
commuting from his home in Sterling, an hour away. “For any golfer, that’s not
Calvin Pearson’s home is considerably more than
an hour away, but he has played Sand Creek Station more often than any other
player in the field. The native of Durban, South Africa, just completed four
seasons at Wichita State University, located 30 minutes south of Newton.
After the initial period of adjustment brought
on by moving from a metropolis of 3.5 million on the Indian Ocean to a
landlocked city with one-10th the population, Pearson considers himself as
entrenched in the Plains as any native Kansan.
“I wouldn’t trade my experience here for
anything,” said Pearson, who will graduate in December. “The people are
wonderful and it was unbelievable watching the basketball team go to the Final
Four [in 2013.]”
But as it did for Hanna, Gellerman and the
field’s third Kansan, Michael Greene, the first round’s unexpected wind caused Pearson
to feel displaced on a course on which he normally feels so comfortable.
Pearson, who has played Sand Creek Station year-round, said that the northerly
breeze is rare, even in the winter.
“The last time I played in this wind,” he said,
“it was probably my freshman year.”
The Kansans – both native and transplanted – are
looking to improve on their first rounds while playing in front of friends and
family in their home state.
The residents of a house along the right side of
the par-3 13th hole are friends of Hanna’s father, William. As Hanna was walking
up to the green, they assembled on the deck, holding up a neon-green sign: “Go
“It’s an awesome opportunity to play in a
national championship in your home state,” said Hanna. “I didn’t play very well
today, so it was very disappointing. But I’ll turn it around tomorrow morning.”
Yun is the director of strategic projects for the USGA. Email him at