DALLAS, Texas — Former Texas Amateur champion Zach Atkinson of Colleyville on Friday shot a bogey-free, 5-under-par 66 to take a four-shot lead after the first round of the 2015 Texas Mid-Amateur Championship at venerable Royal Oaks Country Club.
Atkinson, the 33-year-old who won the 2004 Texas Amateur at the Club at Carlton Woods, poured in five birdies, none longer than eight feet. On a day when only four players broke par on the narrow, tree-lined fairways and fast, firm greens of Royal Oaks, Atkinson displayed crisp iron play and hot putter.
“It was hard out there, no doubt,” said Atkinson, who also won the 2013 and ’15 North Mid-Amateur titles. “I played solid all day. I only made one bad swing. That was on 18, and I got a lucky break when my ball bounced off a tree and into the fairway.”
A member of the national champion Texas squad in the 2014 U.S. State Team Championships along with Colby Harwell and Aaron Hickman, Atkinson on Friday hit 10 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens.
“I like courses where par is a good score,” he said. “I feel like I can scramble it pretty good. This is a hard course, and I like it.”
The 54-hole individual stroke championship continues Saturday with the second round. The mid-amateur division is for male golfers aged 25 or older. The TGA requires an active GHIN Index of 8.4 or lower in order to qualify. After Saturday’s second round, the field will be cut to the low 54 scores and ties for Sunday’s final round.
Will Osborne from Fort Worth, Scott Abbott from Dallas and J.J. Wall from San Antonio were the only others to post red numbers in the first round. The trio is tied for second place after they each turned in 1-under 70s. Scott Loving from Conroe, Brian Noonan from Austin and Bryant Lach from the Woodlands are tied for fifth place at even-par 71.
“I got the absolute most out of my round today,” said Abbott, a 33-year-old physical education teacher at a private Dallas elementary school. “I was able to miss it in good spots, and I kept the big numbers out of play. I wasn’t playing aggressively because the greens are so difficult. They’re very firm, and it’s very difficult to get the ball close to the hole.”
A series of demanding par saves kept Abbott’s round in the red. On the 510-yard, par-5 18th hole, for example, Abbott drove his ball into the hazard on the left. His ball came to rest on a rock. To get back into the fairway, he had to punch it backwards. From there, he had more than 200 yards in. He hit his third shot over the green into a bunker, where he blasted out to three feet and made the putt.
“It was like that today,” said Abbott, who qualified for the 2015 Texas Mid-Amateur with his T8 finish in last year’s championship at Escondido Golf & Lake Club. “I covered a lot of real estate on one hole, but came away with par.”
Opened for play in 1969, Royal Oaks CC was designed by golf course architect J. Press Maxwell and PGA Professionals Don January and Billy Martindale. Long considered one of the area’s most challenging layouts, this is the third TGA major championship conducted at Royal Oaks CC. Previously, the club was the site of the 2010 and 1974 Texas Amateurs.
The course played to 7,078 yards as a par 71. The stroke average was 77.82.
The TGA received a record 558 applications for the 2015 Texas Mid-Amateur. The total eclipsed the previous record of 520 for last year’s championship at Escondido.
Defending champion Terence Begnel of Midland came in with a 3-over 74. He’s tied for 25th place, eight shots off the lead in his title defense. No one has successfully repeated at Texas Mid-Amateur champion since Fort Worth’s John Grace won four straight from 1991-94.
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