Greensboro, N.C. – Despite starting with bogeys on his first two holes, and ending with a missed 7-foot par putt on his final hole, Derek Ernst shot 65 on the 7,218 yard, par-71 Champions Course at Bryan Park Golf & Conference Center. The 20-year-old from Clovis, Calif., took the early lead thanks to nine birdies, including six in a span of eight holes, in the first round of stroke-play qualifying Monday at the 2010 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship.
A nice little Oreo cookie in there, Ernst said. Sweet in the middle, not good on the outside.
Ernst, a rising junior at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, made a snaking 30-foot birdie putt with more than 6 feet of break at the par-3 12th. He followed that with a birdie at the 233-yard, par-3 14th – playing as the second-hardest hole in the first round – by hitting a 3-iron to 2 inches.
Just keep it simple, Ernst said of his game plan. I’m just playing one shot at a time. I’m not really thinking about how the course is playing or what’s going on, I just try to hit the fairway, try to hit the green and try to make the putt.
Ernst, who reached the third round of match play at the U.S. Amateur in 2007 and the first round in 2009, was not able to prepare for his first round as much as he had planned. The Californian failed to adjust his phone’s clock from West Coast time and set his alarm for 5 a.m. (8 a.m. local time), some 50 minutes after his 7:10 a.m. starting time. Fortunately for Ernst, his alert caddie and coach, 31-year-old Aaron Terry, also of Clovis, Calif., woke him up.
I woke up an hour before my tee time in a rush and hurried up and got here, he said. I spent 10 minutes on the range, 10 minutes chipping and 10 minutes putting.
With bogeys on the first two holes, Ernst appeared to be suffering the ill effects of his abbreviated warm-up, and while a scrambling par at the third hole stopped the loss of even more strokes, it certainly did not foreshadow a 65.
I thought my swing was horrible and I was putting horrible, but I got up and down on three from the bunker and it kind of just calmed me down, he said. I started thinking about things other than golf and that calmed me down, too.
Ernst, who has severely limited vision in his right eye due to an accident suffered at the age of 8, finished one stroke ahead of 23-year-old John-Tyler Griffin.
Griffin, of Wilson, N.C., tallied six birdies and one bogey, capping his round with a kick-in birdie at the 472-yard 18th after sticking his approach within inches of the hole.
I had 170 to the hole, uphill playing 176, a perfect stock 7-iron, Griffin said. I couldn’t have drawn it up any better in the fairway.
Patrick Reed and Justin Lower finished three back of Ernst at three under par. Reed, 19, of Augusta, Ga., arrived in Greensboro late on Sunday night after making the 5.5-hour drive from Hilton Head, S.C., where he was competing in the Players Amateur and tied for 16th.
Though he arrived the night before the championship started – Reed played his lone practice round at Bryan Park back on June 27 – he navigated the course like a veteran, posting three consecutive birdies at hole Nos. 9-11, making 10-foot birdie putts for the first two and a tap-in birdie on the 11th.
I didn’t hit many fairways but I felt like I was hitting the ball a lot better, said Reed, who was a semifinalist at the 2008 U.S. Amateur. I came in here thinking the first thing you got to do is continue to hit the ball well and play solid and steady for these first two rounds and if you do that, that’s when the fun comes, because I love match play.
Reed led Augusta State University to the team title at the NCAA Division I Championship in June, going 3-0 in his singles matches.
After a birdie on the 15th, Reed made a bogey-5 on the 17th, ending a personal streak of 43 consecutive holes of par or better.
Lower, of Canal Fulton, Ohio, had a rollercoaster round through intermittent rain showers, going as low as five under par at the turn (he started on the back nine) before falling back to even par in the next five holes.
It was weird, said Lower, who plays on the Malone University golf team and recently received the 2010 Jack Nicklaus Award as the NAIA’s Player of the Year. I just went brain-dead. I just started missing fairways, missing them in the wrong spots, not making the putts I was making on my first nine. I fought back though. I was proud of myself, but my round could’ve been lower.
The 21-year-old finished strong with consecutive birdies at Nos. 8 and 9. He sunk a 20-foot, left-to-right curler at eight and a relatively flat 10-footer at nine to finish at three under par, better than he anticipated.
I didn’t expect to play this well, I really didn’t, Lower said. Coming out here I thought even if I play well, 71 would be a good score, so I’m especially happy with a 68.
A group of seven players finished at two under par, including 2009 U.S. Amateur Public Links runner-up and stroke-play medalist Nick Taylor, 22, of Canada.
Following the second round of stroke play on Tuesday, the low 64 scorers will advance into match play. The championship concludes Saturday with a scheduled 36-hole final. The U.S. Amateur Public Links, established in 1922 for bona fide public-course players, is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
Story written by Justin Hancher and David Normoyle, USGA Communications. Contact them with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com.