Epperson and Martinson Share Day One Lead at Star Fort
By Stewart Moore
Ninety Six, SC – Chris Epperson of Hilton Head Island, SC and Mikel Martinson of Lubbock, TX posted matching rounds of 7-under 65 during the opening round of the eGolf Tour’s inaugural Championship at Star Fort on Wednesday. The duo share the event’s 18-hole lead heading into Thursday’s second round, with 31 players at 3-under or better and just 36 holes left to play.
The Championship at Star Fort is the 19th event of the 2012 eGolf Tour season and is being contested this week at The Golf Club at Star Fort in Ninety-Six, SC.
The event at Star Fort marks the tour’s first competition in over four weeks, as a scheduled August layoff allowed players a bit of rest prior to the upcoming grind of PGA TOUR Q-School. Epperson, like many players, took full advantage of his time off while back home on Hilton Head Island.
“I took some time off, for sure,” said Epperson, 29. “I was in bad shape, golf-wise, after a few weeks of just hanging out, so I grinded pretty hard last week to prepare for this event.”
Epperson began his opening round on the back nine of the George Cobb-designed course, posting pars on each of his first five holes after failing to acclimate to the early-morning greens.
“I thought the greens were rolling fantastic, but the morning air slowed them down a bit,” he said. “It took me a while to get comfortable with the pace, and once I did, the putts started falling.”
His benign start gave way to birdies on 15 and 18, which put the former Armstrong State University golfer at 2-under 34 on the turn. The back nine, however, would prove to be much more fruitful.
Birdies on Nos. 2, 3, 5 and 6 vaulted Epperson up to 6-under on his round with three holes to play. A par at the downhill par-3 seventh brought him to the reachable par-5 eighth, where a misread on a 3-foot birdie try left Epperson a bit peeved with par on what should otherwise be a red-number hole.
On the tee of the par-4 ninth – his finishing hole – Epperson opted to use a hybrid off the tee to try and avoid a fairway bunker down the left side of the hole. A blocked tee shot left him just over 200 yards uphill to the hole, and facing about 30 yards of left-to-right movement on his approach with a towering pine blocking his view of the back-right hole location.
“I really had to cut it on that second shot, and hit a 4-iron perfectly to 3 feet,” Epperson said. “To play that hole in a conservative manner and walk away with birdie was great – definitely a good way to end my round.”
Epperson’s day one effort came as little surprise to those who have been following his 2012 campaign on the eGolf Tour. After spending the majority of 2011 with conditional status on the Nationwide Tour (now Web.com Tour), Epperson returned to the eGolf Tour this year, and has shined while making 15 of 15 cuts.
A veritable ATM machine of sorts, Epperson has notched 11 top-10 finishes on the year, a staggering five top-4 finishes, and entered the week at Star Fort with six consecutive top-10s on his resume. His $71,973 in earnings have him at No. 3 on the tour’s money list, trailing only Drew Weaver and Chesson Hadley.
Epperson, however, has one key item missing from his sterling 2012 list of accomplishments – a win. In fact, he is one of only two players inside the top 10 on the tour’s money list without a win, joining Michael Sims – aka, Mr. 59 – who is currently seventh on the list.
“There are a couple of ways to look at it – you can be a guy who has won, but I’ve been more consistent and might be higher on the money list than him,” said Epperson. “I want to win, but I’m really happy with how I’ve played. I’m thrilled to death with how I’ve played, so if I don’t win this year, it’s not the end of the world.”
After posting just six top-10s in his first 43 career starts on the eGolf Tour, the affable Epperson now has 10 in his last 12 starts – with the two “mishaps” being T11 and T21 finishes.
“As you get older, you get a little more patient. You make fewer mistakes,” he said. “I feel like I’m ready for Q-School. If I keep playing like I have all year, I feel like I should have no problem getting through.”
For Q-School’s first stage, which begins in October, Epperson will travel to familiar ground in The Club at Irish Creek in Kannapolis, NC – site of two eGolf Tour events annually. He’s hopeful that a successful year will parlay itself into a trip to Q-School finals, and eventually a return trip to the Web.com Tour (where he made 5 of 7 cuts in 2011), or even better, to the PGA TOUR.
“I love a big stage and the ability to interact with fans,” he said. “I did some of that on the Nationwide Tour last year, and I would love the chance to do the same on the PGA TOUR next year. I feel like it could happen.”
Like Epperson, Martinson also began his opening round on the back nine at Star Fort, posting two birdies in his first three holes to race out to a fast 2-under start.
A bogey at the par-4 13th slowed Martinson’s momentum somewhat, but bounce back birdies at both 15 and 18 more than made up for the lost shot, and allowed the former Wayland Baptist University golfer to turn at 3-under 33.
On his closing nine, Martinson again opened with a bang, notching birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 to move to 5-under for the day, before dropping back down to 4-under par with a bogey at the long par-3 fourth. That bogey, his second of the round, lit a spark under Martinson, as he ripped off a trifecta of follow-up birdies on Nos. 5, 6 and 7 to reach 7-under for the day – where he eventually finished following pars on his final two holes.
The 28-year-old Martinson has had an up-and-down season thus far, with nine made cuts in 18 starts, and three top-10 finishes to his name. A solo-seventh-place finish at the Willow Creek Open in May represents his best finish, but the former Texas State Open champion entered the week at Star Fort with four made cuts in his previous five starts.
Martinson, far and away one of the tour’s proverbial “good guys,” is not averse to low rounds on the eGolf Tour – especially on day one. In 2011, during his rookie campaign on tour, he opened with rounds of 62 and 63 at the Samanah Classic in Morocco and the Columbia Open, respectively. The latter of the two led to a T5 finish, which stands today as his best result in two years of competing on tour.
Drew Weaver of High Point, NC, Henrik Norlander of Sweden, Zach Sucher of Birmingham, AL and Tim Hegarty of Briarcliff Manor, NY are tied for third, one shot behind the co-leaders, following rounds of 66 on Wednesday.
Weaver, the tour’s leading money winner with $110,792 in season-long earnings, was the round’s early leader, posting seven birdies in the day’s first threesome off of No. 10 on his way to a 6-under 66. The 66 marked Weaver’s 20th round of 67 or better in 2012 alone.
For Weaver – the 2007 British Amateur champion – 2012 has proven to be somewhat of a coming out party. The former Virginia Tech star overcame three missed cuts in his first seven starts to post two wins and four runner-up finishes during a seven-event stretch from May through July that catapulted the current Sea Island (GA) resident to the top of the money list – in turn eclipsing the $100,000 mark faster than any player in tour history.
His torrid stretch came to somewhat of a close with a T13 effort at the River Landing Open in July and a missed cut at the Championship at Woodside Plantation in August, but ramped right back up with a solo-third-place finish at the Grand Harbor Open – an event co-hosted by Star Fort.
Norlander, a member of Augusta State University’s back-to-back NCAA Championship teams in 2010 and 2011, birdied the first three holes of his opening round en route to his 6-under effort.
A three-time “All America” selection as one of the key members of the Jaguars’ championship teams, Norlander has made 11 of 14 cuts on the year, with just one top-10 finish to his name – a T5 at the Willow Creek Open.
Second-round play in The Championship at Star Fort will begin at 8:00 AM on Thursday morning. The tournament is open to the public and free of charge.