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LORTON, Va. (July 15, 2013) -- Eric Sugimoto made five birdies on his opening nine to card a record-tying, 7-under 63 and take a two-stroke lead following the first round of stroke-play qualifying at the 2013 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship being conducted at the 7,022-yard, par-70 Laurel Hill Golf Club.
Garrett Rank and Ian Davis are two strokes back after shooting 5-under 65s, followed by Sam Saunders, who posted a 66.
On a day when the Heat Index reached triple digits in the metro-Washington D.C. area, Sugimoto, 19, of San Diego, was as scorching as the weather. Starting on No. 10, he birdied his opening hole and followed it with a kick-in 3 at the par-4 12th. Sugimoto converted another birdie at the long par-5 15th, stuffed a 7-iron to within a few feet for a birdie 2 at the 16th and closed his first nine with another birdie at the par-5 18th.
In all, he registered seven birdies, including one on each of the three par 5s. His bogey-free day matched Danny Green’s first-round 63 at Rush Creek G.C. in Maple Grove, Minn., in 2004 for the lowest 18-hole score in APL history.
“Shooting a 63 is great wherever I’m playing, but I wasn’t really thinking about it,” said Sugimoto. “I just stuck to my game plan, hit a couple close early and took advantage. Everything just went well for me today. It was nice to have it click.”
Sugimoto, a rising junior at the University of the Pacific, led his team to the Big West Conference Championship this spring, where he won the individual title in a two-hole playoff.
“I have lot more confidence in my game from playing in the bigger tournaments,” said Sugimoto. “I now know that I can compete and am beginning to feel very comfortable. I know I can be there in the end.”
Rank, a hockey referee who finished runner-up at last year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur, made six birdies and one bogey on the 2005 Bill Love design. Starting on the 10th hole, the 25-year-old from Canada made eight pars and one birdie on his first nine, then kicked it into gear on the second nine with five more birdies, including an 8-iron to 3 feet on the 186-yard, par-3 fourth.
“I drove it well, hit a bunch of greens and made a few 15 footers,” said Rank. “It wasn’t anything spectacular, but I gave myself a lot of chances out there.”
Rank finished second at last week’s Ontario Amateur and has top-20 finishes at the Northeast Amateur and the Sahalee Players Championship this summer. The Ontario native hopes to qualify for or receive an exemption into the PGA Tour’s RBC Canadian Open next week. He will play in the U.S. Mid-Amateur in October with hopes of avenging his 1-down loss to Nathan Smith in 2012 at Conway Farms Golf Club in suburban Chicago. This week, he is hoping to draw on that experience at the APL.
“Now I know what it takes to play eight rounds in six days,” said Rank. “I think I can use that to my advantage.”
Davis, of Edmond, Okla., bogeyed his first hole, but played nearly flawlessly from there, closing the round with birdies on four of his last six holes.
Competing against two of his Oklahoma State teammates, Talor Gooch and Jordan Niebrugge, and with assistant coach Brian Guetz on his bag, Davis has high hopes for his first USGA championship. He won the Royal Oaks Intercollegiate in October 2012, finished eighth in the NCAA Division I Championship and recently qualified for the 2013 U.S. Amateur that will be played next month at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.
“I’ve built a lot of confidence from playing well at nationals,” said Davis. “And it’s great to have [Gooch and Niebrugge] here too. It should be a really fun week.”
Three off Sugimoto’s pace is Saunders, 21, of Albuquerque, N.M. He was the last person added to the 156-player field, gaining entry when 2012 semifinalist, Kyle Beversdorf, withdrew because of an injury. Saunders was the first alternate from the Albuquerque qualifier and needed some exceptional play even to earn that spot.
“There was only one spot available in the qualifier and Greg Condon was beating everybody by 10,” said Saunders. “I was playing horribly and was something like seven shots down to the second place guy with nine holes to go.”
But Saunders shot a 32 on his final nine and earned the first alternate spot by winning the first playoff hole. But by last Thursday, Saunders’ still had not received a call from the USGA, and his chances of making the championship were bleak.
“I kind of gave up hope and signed up for another tournament,” said Saunders, who advanced to the second round at the 2012 APL. “I thought it was over. But when I got that message on late Thursday, I made all my travel arrangements and got up here.”
Despite playing only one practice round, Saunders took full advantage on Monday. Starting on the 10th, he recorded seven birdies, including a stretch of four in a row on from No. 2 en route to his 4-under 66.
Other notable opening-round performances include 2012 APL stroke-play medalist, James Erkenbeck (67), 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur runner-up, Chelso Barrett (70), SMU's Austin Smotherman (2-under, T7), 2012 Northeast Amateur winner Justin Shin (1-under, T14), U.S. Senior Open participant Sean Knapp (1-under, T14), top-ranked junior at Alabama signee Robby Shelton (E, T30) and Florida teen phenom Sam Horsfeld (E, T30,).
Rank is tied for second with Ian Davis, a soon-to-be senior at Oklahoma State. Davis made six birdies against a bogey on the par-4 1st.
Cameron Peck, who might be the hottest golfer in the field, shot an opening-round 68. Peck, a former U.S. Junior champion and Texas A&M golfer, is fresh off a victory at last week's Pacific Northwest Amateur.
Michael Kim of the Cal golf team, the recipient of the Haskins award as the top collegiate player of 2013, opened with 69.
The U.S. Amateur Public Links is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
Golfers will play the second round of stroke-play qualifying Tuesday. 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.
Information from the USGA and amateurgolf.com was used in this report