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Virginia State Amateur: Utley, Ball lead way
GORDONSVILLE –– Richmond-based golfers Adam Ball, 23, and Jordan Utley, 28, each shot 6-under-par 66 to pace the first round of stroke play qualifying as the 101st Virginia State Golf Association Amateur Championship got underway today at the Spring Creek Golf Club.

Ball, a rising junior at Virginia Commonwealth University, led the morning wave, while Utley (pictured right), a University of Richmond graduate, delivered the low round among the competitors who had afternoon starting times.

All told, 19 competitors posted rounds in red numbers on the first day. Collegians Addison Coll (Arlington), an 18-year-old rising sophomore at Ohio State, and Connor Hayden (Chilhowie), a 20-year-old rising junior at Radford University, had 4-under 68. Clifton’s Ji Soo Park, 21, a senior at the University of Virginia, and twice a runner-up at the VSGA Amateur, and mid-amateur Justin Young, 36, of Roanoke, each signed for 3-under 69. Eight other are at 2-under 70, while five more had 71.

Ball used a torrid putting round to collect seven birdies against a bogey. One under par through 10 holes, he reeled off four straight birdies at Nos. 12-15 and added another at the par-5 finishing hole en route to carding 4-under 32 on the inward half.

“I putted really well. The putter just got really hot,” Ball said. “I was hitting good shots all day and making the putts I needed to make. I scrambled well when I needed to. I only had one bogey on [No.] 10. Everything went right today.”

Ball led VCU in stroke average as a sophomore and his solid play continues. With a strong start, Ball knows that his opening day score takes some of the pressure off, with the second round of stroke play qualifying set for Wednesday before the field is reduced to 32 players for the start of match play on Thursday.

“It’s a bit of relief,” said Ball, a quarterfinalist at the 2012 VSGA Amateur at Bayville Golf Club in Virginia Beach. “[I have] to make sure I can get to match play and get the best seed I can get. I’m extremely happy and excited. On (Wednesday), I’ll get back into the zone, make sure my mind is right and get ready to play good golf again.”

Ball is already a VSGA veteran, having competed in association championships since his pre-teen years. He has plenty of competitive experience on his side; Ball is the only player in VSGA history to win five junior championships conducted by the VSGA and advanced to the semifinals of the 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship.

Utley is no stranger to the VSGA Amateur stage. During a three-year stretch from 2006-08, he reached the semifinals on two occasions, bowing out to the eventual champion both times—Chris McCartin of Arlington (2006) and Brinson Paolini of Virginia Beach (2008). And in 2007, Utley fell to eventual finalist John Rosenstock (Midlothian) in the quarterfinals. Paolini won the first of his record three straight championships in ’08 and went on to basically become the face of the event from 2008-13, recording his fourth victory in six years last year at The Homestead’s Cascades Course.

Paolini is now a professional competing on the European Tour, while Utley has been content to remain an amateur, enjoy a burgeoning professional career in the field of accounting and play golf as his schedule will allow. He showed little rust on day one. Starting on No. 10, his round was highlighted by an eagle-3 at his third hole of the day, the par-5 12th, where he knocked in a 15-footer. Utley shot 5-under 31 on his outward nine. His scorecard also included six birdies against two bogeys.

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