BY PAUL KENYON
Journal Sports Writer
BARRINGTON, RI (July 11, 2006) -- As someone who has grown up playing golf at Rhode Island Country Club, David McAndrew knows the course plays differently, depending on the time of day.
"It's always harder in the afternoon when the wind comes up," McAndrew said. "That's just the way it is here."
Yesterday, when the course hosted the first round of the 101st R.I. Golf Association Amateur Championship, was a perfect example. A breeze came in off the bay all day. But it picked up in the afternoon and blew much harder through the second half of the day.
"This is even a little bit harder than usual," McAndrew said of the strong winds as he finished his round shortly before 5 o'clock.
All of which made the work turned in by McAndrew, Billy Auger, Drew Harker and Jason Pannone that much more impressive. They all played in the afternoon, when the conditions were the toughest. But they were the only starters in the 132-player field able to break par.
McAndrew, a recent Barrington High grad who is headed to Stetson University in Florida, led the way with a 3-under-par 68. Auger, the RIGA player of the year, and Pannone, a URI star, both had 69s. Harker, another Barrington grad who is coming off a Division III All-American sophomore season at Emory College in Atlanta, had a 70.
Scores overall were surprisingly good, to the point where it is likely to take a 150 or 151 total to earn a spot in match play after today's second and final round of qualifying. Those in good shape include Tom McCormick, the defending champion, who had a 72, also in the tougher afternoon conditions.
The second day can't be any more unpredictable than the first.
Early starters came in and spoke about how the course was in terrific condition, how RICC is one of the very best layouts in the state, and how the wind was adding more than enough challenge. Expected contenders such as Hall of Famer Paul Quigley and college star David Marino both had 71s, and Tom Goryl, Eugene DiSarro, Brad Valois, Charlie Blanchard, John Drohen and Jeff Kafalas posted 72s.
For much of the day, it did not appear as if anyone would break par. What McAndrew and the others did late in the day defied logic.
It was unquestionably more difficult. But four players managed to shoot under-par rounds.
"You got to 14 (near the water) and hit your second shot, and it was like hitting a wall," Auger said. "Then you crossed the street and you saw how it was really blowing."
With whitecaps visible on the water, McAndrew led the afternoon charge.
He led the field with six birdies, the first when he rolled in a long putt on the par-4 second. He bogeyed the third, but then had birdies at 4, 5 and 8, reaching the par-5 eighth with a 3-wood and a 5-iron. Two more birdies offset two bogeys on the back side to give him his 68 and the lead.
Pannone, a former Stroke Play champion, and Auger both were enthusiastic after their 69s. Pannone has not played much since URI's season ended, and instead has been working on his game at Potowomut. He has received help from an unusual source. Scott Cooke, the RIGA president, is a friend from Potowomut.
"He's been working with me. He's been great helping me out," Pannone said. While Pannone had a solid season for URI, he said his scores in the low-and mid-70s were the result of good short-game work. He was not hitting the ball nearly as well as he hopes to.
"Now that I'm finally hitting it I'm able to score better," he said.
Auger is accustomed to success in RIGA events. But he has not been playing as much this year.
"I hit the ball very solidly today, which is amazing," he said. "I played yesterday (at Newport) and shot 88. I just haven't been playing much, so I haven't been consistent at all," he said.
Harker took the strong winds in stride.
"We play here like this every day. I guess if you haven't been here before it can be hard," he said.
He used a chip-in birdie on 11, and then another birdie on 12 after nearly driving the par-4 to get him under par.
Behind them, the leaderboard is filled with familiar names such as Quigley, Goryl and Blanchard. Three-time champion George Pirie got in trouble with a 40 going out but came back in 34 to keep himself in good position at 74.
The one new name among the contenders is Kafalas, a Woonsocket resident who earned a spot in the qualifying for non-affiliated players. His 72 included an eagle on the par-5 eighth, where he hit a 7-wood approach within six feet and made the putt.
"I hit the 7-wood a lot today," he said. "I hit it great. I kept hitting it close with that club."
The cut will be made to the low 32 after today's round for the start of match play.