Jensen Returns to Form With First-Round 63 at Olde Sycamore
By Stewart Moore
Charlotte, NC – Three-time eGolf Tour winner Clint Jensen of Jupiter, FL entered this week’s Olde Sycamore Open on the heels of five missed cuts, struggling through one of the worst slumps of his professional career. On Wednesday, Jensen’s proverbial slump buster came in the form of a front-nine 29 and a first-round 63 that vaulted the Washington state native into a three-shot lead through 18 holes of the 54-hole event, eyeing win No. 2 on the year.
The Olde Sycamore Open is the 21st event of the 2012 eGolf Tour season and is being contested this week at Olde Sycamore Golf Club in Charlotte, NC.
Jensen, who notched the third win of his eGolf Tour career in a playoff at the Forest Oaks Classic in April, opened his day on the front nine of the Tom Jackson-designed course with a two-putt birdie that quickly put him at 1-under on his day.
“I pulled my tee shot a bit off the first tee, but got away with it and hit my second to 20 feet, so that was a nice two-putt birdie to start,” said Jensen of the par-5 opening hole. “That got me going right away.”
A near-miss at the par-4 second led to a three-hole stretch of birdies on Nos. 3, 4 and 5 that took the former University of Tulsa golfer to 4-under on his round.
A par at the double-green par-3 sixth kept him at four red, but when Jensen birdied the par-5 seventh, it again turned into a trifecta of birdies, as he birdied Nos. 8 and 9 to turn at a staggering 7-under 29.
“I hit a lot of good shots and got some putts to go in. Once I hit a few good ones, I just tried to stay out of my way,” said Jensen, 37. “I didn’t make any long putts. My longest putt was 15 feet on the day. I just tried to dig deep and find some old confidence.”
A five-hole stretch of pars on Nos. 10-14 eventually came to a close with back-to-back birdies on 15 and 16 to take Jensen to 9-under par. When he pared Nos. 17 and 18, he was left with a first-round 63 that matched his career-best on the eGolf Tour – dating back to an opening-round 63 at the Cowans Ford Open in 2010, an event he won by three shots over current PGA TOUR member Roberto Castro.
For Jensen, the quirky-yet-fair layout at Olde Sycamore – which requires far more brain than brawn – sets up perfectly for a player who may not hit it 300 yards, but can outsmart a game filled with thrashing 20-somethings.
“You have to hit some 3-woods off some holes, and the greens are fairly undulated, so you have to find the right quadrants,” he said. “But if you do, you can make some putts.”
Making putts has never been one of Jensen’s weaknesses. His long game, however, has at time caused him to struggle off the tee and on approaches. So much so, that in the mid-2000s, he walked away from the game completely.
His brief hiatus ended when his golf swing won him over again. Since coming back, the married father of two has without doubt been annually one of the eGolf Tour’s best players – notching wins in 2009, 2010 and 2012, while earning over $237,000 during that same stretch.
The win earlier this year at Forest Oaks led to seven top-25 finishes in his next eight starts, but then the swing issues of yesteryear reappeared in the form of errant tee shots and an inability to just trust it.
“I was really struggling, but last week I started to play a little better, even though I missed the cut,” said Jensen. “I felt like I was hitting it better. Drew (Weaver) actually gave me a lesson a few weeks ago, and I took some of that and some old stuff I worked on to straighten things out.”
The narrow sightlines of Olde Sycamore seem like the last place on Earth that one would reunite with a level of trust and confidence in one’s swing, but that’s exactly what Jensen has done through 18 holes of play.
“It’s tough to keep a good attitude through it all, but I’m fairly experienced and I’ve been through some ups and downs before,” he said. “It was as bad as it was when I quit playing, but I feel like I’m heading in a good direction now, and getting ready for Q-School.”
In October, Jensen will head just north to The Club at Irish Creek in Kannapolis, NC for the first stage of PGA TOUR Q-School. The Davis Love III design is an annual host venue for the eGolf Tour, and is clearly one of Jensen’s homes away from home. He has one win and one runner-up at the site in eGolf Tour play since 2009, and won Q-School’s first stage in 2011 at Irish Creek by 11 shots.
George Bryan IV of Chapin, SC, Dustin Bray of Asheboro, NC, Will Golden of Auburn, AL and Jim Troy of Willowbrook, IL are tied for second, three shots back of Jensen after opening with rounds of 6-under 66 on Wednesday.
Bryan, a former University of South Carolina star, began his first round on the back nine in somewhat benign fashion, posting one birdie and one bogey to turn at even-par 36 for the day.
On the front nine (his back), Bryan’s day came alive. A birdie at No. 1 gave way to birdies at Nos. 4 and 5, which in turn moved him to 3-under for the day. At the par-5 seventh, Bryan recorded an eagle that vaulted him to 5-under par, then backed it up 15 minutes later with a birdie at the par-4 eighth. A par at the last gave him a closing 6-under 30 and a 66 on the day.
Much like Jensen, Bryan entered the week on the heels of a difficult stretch, posting six consecutive missed cuts after being disqualified from the Spring Creek Classic in June. Prior to that, however, the Gamecock standout had notched five top-25 finishes on the year – including a career-best fourth-place effort at the Oldfield Open in February.
Bray’s 66 was a miracle of sorts, considering that he was one week removed from a back injury that limited him to crawling around his apartment for two days – unable to walk.
“It was the weirdest situation I had ever been through,” said Bray after his round. “I had to crawl on the ground, because my back couldn’t support me enough to stand up. It was the most pain I had ever experienced.”
A trip to a masseuse and a week away from tournament play did Bray some good, as seven birdies and one bogey on Wednesday left him with his seventh round of 66 or better on the year.
Prior to the injury, the former University of North Carolina “All American” had sandwiched a season-best T3 at the Southern Open in between missed cuts at the Championship at Wintergreen Resort and the Championship at Woodside Plantation. Overall, his 2012 campaign has been a study in consistency, with 11 made cuts in 13 starts and an impressive 10 top-20 finishes to his name. In between his starts on the eGolf Tour, Bray made four appearances on the Web.com Tour, notching a T6 finish at The Rex Hospital Open in June – his first top-10 on the PGA TOUR’s developmental circuit since May of 2009.
Golden, who matched Troy for low round in the day’s afternoon wave, birdied Nos. 10 and 11 (his first two holes) en route to a 2-under 34 on his outward nine. On the front nine, he launched into red figures with four consecutive birdies on Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6 to reach 6-under for the day. From there, he pared his final three holes to post a back-nine 32 for his day one 66.
The former UNC Charlotte 49er golfer returned his college stomping grounds this year to compete on the eGolf Tour full time, making 4 of 12 cuts thus far on the year with a career-best T27 finish at the Columbia Open in May. Golden posted an 8-under 64 in that event’s second round – his low of the year. He now has three rounds of 66 or better in 2012, including his opening round at Olde Sycamore.
Troy, making the first start of his eGolf Tour career, birdied Nos. 12 and 18 to post a 2-under 34 on his outward nine. A birdie at the first took him to 3-under, while birdies on Nos. 4, 5, 6 and 7 catapulted the rookie into solo-second-place at 7-under for the day. At the par-4 ninth, Troy recorded the first bogey of his round to close out his maiden voyage with a 6-under effort that put him just three back of Jensen entering Thursday’s second round.
Second-round play in the Olde Sycamore Open will begin at 8:00 AM on Thursday morning. Following the conclusion of 36 holes, the field will be cut to the low 33 percent and ties for Friday’s final round. The tournament is open to the public and free of charge.