Strother Takes First-Round Lead at Woodside Plantation with Course-Record 61
By Stewart Moore
Aiken, SC – After spending all day Saturday and Sunday working in a local pro shop, Gordon “Bug” Strother of St. Simons Island, GA debated withdrawing from this week’s Championship at Woodside Plantation, feeling as though he wasn’t as well prepared as he wanted to be. A last-second decision to compete looks to have been a wise choice, as the former Auburn University golfer carded nine birdies and an eagle in Wednesday’s opening round en route to a course-record-setting 61, and a stunning four-shot lead through 18 holes of play.
The Championship at Woodside Plantation is the 17th event of the 2012 eGolf Tour season and is being contested this week at the Rees Jones-designed Wisteria Course at Woodside Plantation Country Club in Aiken, SC.
Strother, one of countless professional golfers who call the Sea Island (GA) area home, began working at the famed island’s Retreat Club this past January, hoping to pick up a few extra dollars while chasing a lifelong dream.
While adding funds to the checking account, Strother’s time between tournaments has been spent behind counters as opposed to on driving ranges, which in turn may have led to a sluggish start to his 2012 campaign.
“I haven’t really played well this year – it has definitely been a struggle,” said Strother, 26. “My putting had been letting me down for the most part, but I was able to change up my routine this week, and so far it has worked.”
After playing well on Monday, Strother felt like something else needed a switch prior to a Tuesday practice round on the Rees Jones-designed Wisteria course.
“I looked in the toolbox of my truck and found an old Odyssey 2-Ball putter that I won a tournament with last summer,” he said. “At that point, I was willing to try anything, so I decided to give it another shot.”
Strother’s last-second putter swap ignited a record-setting round on Wednesday, in turn shattering the prior course record by one shot, and eclipsing his own personal best by two.
Starting on the front nine in the first threesome off in the afternoon wave, Strother birdied the par-4 opening hole to ease into what would become a monumental day for the Brunswick, GA native.
The birdie at No. 1 gave way to three straight pars, which then lead to a trifecta of birdies on Nos. 5, 6 and 7 to vault up to 4-under for the day.
“I turned at 4-under and was playing pretty good, making a lot of putts,” Strother said. “Then I eagled No. 11 to get to 6-under, and from there I just kept making putts and birdies.”
The eagle at 11 turned into birdies on Nos. 12 and 13, which took Strother even further into the red at 8-under for the day.
After recording pars on 14 and 15, Strother again ripped off three consecutive under-par holes, this time opting to polish off his record-setting effort with birdies on 16, 17 and 18 to reach 11-under for the round and 61 on day one.
Strother’s card reads like a veritable triple turkey, with 10 holes featuring scores below par, and only one of them – the birdie at No. 1 – coming outside of a three-in-a-row stretch.
“I played solid all day and just kept making putts. I don’t really know what else to say,” said a reserved Strother after his round. “Like I said, once I got to 4-under, they just kept falling.”
The phenomenal effort was a welcome friend for Strother, who entered the week with just 5 of 11 made cuts on the year, and a T31 at the Irish Creek Classic in March serving as his best finish.
Signs of better play came three weeks ago at the tour’s annual Southern Open, where Strother opened with a 67 to play his way into contention. Later that evening, however, a piece of food lodged in his throat, forcing him to seek medical attention and eventually withdraw from the event.
“I had a good opening round that week, then had to WD after choking on some food,” he said. “I missed a few cuts by a shot, which always hurts. It’s been a tough year.”
The 11-under opening-round effort is the third round of 61 or better carded on the eGolf Tour dating back to the second round of that Southern Open, when Michael Sims set an all-time tour record with a 12-under 59 at the Country Club of Salisbury, and tour rookie Ryan Sullivan posted a 10-under 61 at The Club at Irish Creek.
Tied for second, four shots behind Strother after matching rounds of 7-under 65, are Chip Lynn of Lillington, NC and Jesse Hutchins of Kirkersville, OH.
For Lynn, the ability to even tee it up on Wednesday felt like a gift. Early last week, the 24-year-old came down with a gall bladder infection that caused immense back pain and left him tired and lethargic at the end of each day. An off week on the eGolf Tour may have been a blessing in disguise, but it still left Lynn rusty and questionable at best for this week’s event.
“I played two rounds last week and may have practiced for four hours other than that,” said Lynn. “I just didn’t have the energy to do anything.”
Debating whether or not to even make the venture to Aiken, Lynn played golf back home in Lillington on Saturday, and felt as though the back pain – while still persistent – was manageable.
“During the round, my back wasn’t killing me on every shot, so I felt as though I could play this week,” he said. “I played again at home on Monday, then got a good practice session in on Tuesday, so I felt like I could give it a go.”
Lynn more than gave it a go, posting a bogey-free 65 – courtesy of a late-round chip-in for eagle – that temporarily gave him the outright lead before being matched by Hutchins in the day’s morning wave.
A slow start to his day featuring just one front-nine birdie at the par-3 third left the former Fayetteville State golfer at 1-under 35 on the turn – clearly not threatening the top of the leaderboard.
Birdies at 10 and 11 took Lynn to 3-under for the round, but it was at No. 14 where his day took a turn for the good.
At the par-5 14th, he hit his second shot to 15 feet, with his ball lying just off the green and on the fringe. A straightforward pitch for his third found the bottom of the cup, resulting in an eagle that vaulted the now-charging Lynn up to 5-under for the day.
Stellar iron shots on both 15 and 16 led to 4-foot birdie tries for Lynn, who converted each to move to 7-under with two holes to play in his opening round. When he pared 17 and 18, Lynn was left with a first-round 65 – which tied the low round of his eGolf Tour career.
“I was just glad I was able to play, to be honest,” said Lynn. “I knew I had a round like this coming – it just never showed up until today.”
Lynn entered the week at Woodside Plantation playing some of the best golf of his career. With three top-10 finishes in his last four starts and not a round over par in his last 16 carded, Lynn was on the precipice of making good on his bevy of potential.
“It feels good to play how I feel I should be playing. I’ve had good finishes, but I feel like I’ve let a few go,” he said. “I needed a round like this the last couple of weeks to have a chance to win, but I wasn’t able to get it. Hopefully this will be the first of a few more this week.”
Hutchins, making just his third start of the year on the eGolf Tour, had one of the days more up-and-down rounds, posting an eagle, eight birdies and three bogeys en route to his 7-under 65.
Starting on the front nine at Wisteria, Hutchins actually bogeyed the par-4 first before rallying with four consecutive birdies on Nos. 3 through 6 to reach 3-under for the day. A bookend bogey at No. 9, however, left the former Wright State golfer with a 2-under 34 effort on his opening nine.
Hutchins’ back nine began with a torrid stretch of golf, as birdies on 11 and 13 set up an eagle at the par-5 15th that moved him to 6-under for the round. A bogey at the par-3 15th – his third bogey of the day – dropped him back down to 5-under par, but Hutchins rebounded with birdies at 16 and 18 to close out his 7-under effort in the opening round.
The 65 marked a career low on the eGolf Tour for Hutchins, who entered the week with five prior starts under his belt. At the Bolle Classic in June, Hutchins posted rounds of 68-71-71-67—277 to finish T21 – his third top-25 in the aforementioned five career starts.
Hutchins played the Web.com Tour full time in 2010, making 20 starts on the year and notching a career-best T12 finish at the Melwood Prince George’s County Open. At the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club, Hutchins made his first career major championship start, missing the cut by one shot with rounds of 76-71—147.
Jin Jeong of Busan, South Korea and David Bradshaw of Harpers Ferry, WV are tied for fourth after rounds of 6-under 66 on day one.
Jeong, the 2010 British Amateur champion, posted two birdies and a bogey at the par-5 14th on his opening nine (the back nine) to turn at 1-under 35 for the day. On the front nine, the South Korea native came alive, posting six birdies – including five in a row on Nos. 4 through 8 – to finish off a back-nine 31 for his 6-under effort on day one.
The 22-year-old, who now resides in Melbourne, Australia, earned international acclaim for his British Amateur win (where he became the first Asian-born player to win), and more than justified the hype with a T14 finish at the 2010 Open Championship – where he garnered low amateur honors. A win at the prestigious Riversdale Cup in 2010, as well as an amateur win at the Tasmanian Open that same year, vaulted Jeong to No. 1 in the R&A’s World Amateur Golf Ranking.
Jeong has been playing the eGolf Tour full time since May of this year, and has posted two top-5s in seven starts thus far. The first of those two top-5s came in the form of a runner-up finish at his eGolf Tour debut at the Willow Creek Open, as rounds of 70-67-64—201 left him one shot shy of winner (and eGolf Tour leading money winner) Drew Weaver.
Bradshaw, a six-time West Virginia Open champion making just his second eGolf Tour start since 2009, posted seven birdies and one bogey in the opening round to move inside the top five.
The 29-year-old former Shepherd University golfer won his home state’s Open in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011, prior to finishing runner-up in this year’s edition. Bradshaw, however, is still well off the all-time win mark for the event of 17 titles, set by World Golf Hall of Fame member Sam Snead.
Second-round play in The Championship at Woodside Plantation will begin at 8:00 AM on Thursday morning at Woodside Plantation. The tournament is open to the public and free of charge.