MIDWAY, Utah (July 9, 2012) -– Jace Long and Cheng-Tsung Pan carded rounds of 4-under 67 to set the pace in the first round of stroke-playing qualifying at the 2012 U.S. Amateur Public Links at Soldier Hollow Golf Course in Midway, Utah.
Long, 22, and Pan, 20, were two of 17 golfers to break par on the par-71, 7,670-yard layout. Compare that to last year when only one golfer, Devon Purser, of Clearfield, Utah, broke par in the first round at Bandon Trails at the Bandon Dunes Resort in Oregon.
Sunny skies and calm winds allowed for ideal scoring conditions on a layout featuring length, elevation changes, slick greens and knee-high rough in some areas.
Starting on the 10th hole, Long was at one under when he blocked his tee shot out of bounds to the right at the par-4 15th hole. He salvaged bogey, then birdied four of his next five holes.
“I hit the ball well yesterday in my practice round and got into a comfort zone on the golf course,” said Long. “I tried to give myself as many opportunities as possible.”
In all, the Dixon, Mo. resident carded a first-round-best eight birdies, getting as low as five under after a chip-in birdie on the 195-yard fifth hole. After a pulled tee shot, Long faced a difficult shot and thought he would need to sink a long putt to save par.
“I was just dead to the left of the green,” said Long, a rising senior at the University of Missouri. “I short-sided myself, hit a good pitch and it just dropped in. That was huge.”
Playing in the afternoon, Pan, a 2011 U.S. Open qualifier, took just nine strokes to play Soldier Hollow’s four par 3s.
“Overall, I hit a lot of good shots on the par 3s,” said Pan, who birdied the 195-yard fifth, the 233-yard seventh and the 177-yard 12th. “Two of them I put within four feet and the other was about 15 feet away.”
Pan moved to the United States from Chinese Taipei just five years ago, attending high school in Bradenton, Fla. His biggest adjustment was balancing academics and athletics as a freshman at the University of Washington.
“I wanted to do well with both,” said Pan, who won the Azalea Invitational and finished runner-up at the Sahalee Players Championship in 2011. “It was a tough year for me. It gave me a lot of stress, but I practiced putting a lot with my coach to relax and now it’s the best part of my game.”
Perhaps Pan’s 67 shouldn’t be surprising considering he had just played Soldier Hollow earlier this spring in a friendly match against Brighman Young University. He remarked that the course “feels familiar to me.”
James Erkenbeck, who advanced to the round of 16 in last year’s APL, sits one stroke behind the leaders after an opening-round 68. Starting on the 10th hole, the 22-year-old San Diego, Calif. resident made three consecutive birdies on holes 12 to 14 and added a fourth at the par-5 16th to turn in 4-under 31.
While some players struggled with Soldier Hollow’s 5,500-foot altitude, Erkenbeck, a rising senior at the University of New Mexico, found the conditions very similar to Albuquerque.
“I feel very comfortable out here while I see some of the other guys guessing,” said Erkenbeck. “All the things that come with the altitude – it’s not just distance, it’s controlling your trajectory and spin too – it all makes a big difference.”
The 2012 U.S. Amateur Public Links is the first USGA championship held in Utah. One of the state’s best players, 34-year-old Dan Horner, who won the 2008 Utah State Amateur at Soldier Hollow’s Silver Course, opened with a 2-under 69 in the morning wave.
The other three Utah residents in the APL field, Zac Blair (71), J.T. Timmons (74) and Nick Drost (76), played Soldier Hollow on Monday afternoon.
Derek Ernst, the runner-up to Corbin Mills in the 2011 APL at Bandon Dunes, opened with a 1-under 70.
On Tuesday, the golfers will play the second round of stroke-play qualifying at Soldier Hollow. The field will then be cut to the low 64 scorers for match play, which begins Wednesday. The 36-hole championship match is scheduled for Saturday.