RICHMOND, VA (September 22, 2016) -- A teaching professional, the defending champion and an amateur playing in his first competitive tournament in more than a decade posted the three best scores Thursday in the first round of the 11th Senior Open of Virginia, held at Country Club of Virginia’s Westhampton Course.
Brendan McGrath, the director of instruction at Hidden Creek Country Club in Reston, was one of three players to break par on the par-70 course on Thursday, posting a 3-under 67 that put him one shot ahead of amateur Dave Pulk (Two Rivers CC), who won the championship in 2015. Robert Friend (Brookwoods GC) stands in third after shooting a 1-under 69.
McGrath, who recently turned 50 and is participating in his first Senior Open, finished with four birdies and one bogey. Even with his work responsibilities, he found plenty of time to get out on the course and work on his game in advance of the championship, which is conducted jointly by the VSGA and Middle Atlantic Section of the PGA.
“I’m a fully committed golfer and I work really hard at it,” McGrath said. “Like any tournament, you’re trying to win, you’re trying to do your best.”
Pulk, who finished two shots clear of Tom Grady (Shenandoah Valley GC) to win the title at CCV last September, missed a good chunk of the season while rehabilitating from back surgery. He reached the semifinals of the VSGA Senior Amateur in August, showing that his game was rounding back into form. He continued his strong play Thursday, using a strong back nine to stay within a stroke of the lead.
Pulk opened with a bogey and made par on his next eight holes to make the turn at 1 over. He made four birdies and a bogey on the inward nine, including back-to-back birdies on Nos. 16 and 17.
“I was pleased with how I hit it, so really no complaints,” Pulk said. “We’ll just have to play a little better tomorrow and see what happens. That’s all we can do.”
Friend said no one was more surprised at his spot near the top of the leaderboard than he was. Friend posted the top score at his Senior Open qualifier at Richmond Country Club, an even-par 71. He was just as steady on Thursday, finishing with three birdies and two bogeys.
“My number was 75 when I started out,” Friend said. “This is my first tournament in 15 years, maybe? It’s been a long time. … I played a lot of competitive golf in high school and college. I was pro for a while. So I enjoy competitive golf. Then work, marriage, kids takes you away from that, so I just haven’t played. Kids are now in college, so I tried to qualify. And I only live two miles away, so this is perfect to see if I can play anymore.”
McGrath, Pulk and Friend will play in Friday’s final grouping, which is scheduled to tee off at 1:10 p.m. But there are plenty of players just behind them who are capable of making a move in the second and final round.
Seven players shot even-par 70, a group that includes past Senior Open champions Grady and David Partridge (Hermitage CC), and Maryland professional Ricky Touma, who qualified for the U.S. Senior Open earlier this year.
Seven more players were tied at 1-over 71, a group that includes past VSGA Senior Stroke Play champion James Gallagher (Tidewater Amateur Golf Tour), past Senior Open champions Tim Lewis and Rick Schuller, and 2016 VSGA Senior Amateur finalist Rich Buckner (Robert Trent Jones GC).
In all, 25 players in the 90-man field are within five strokes heading into Friday, which should set up a fantastic finish at CCV.
“I’m sure there are 20 guys who can still win the tournament with a good round,” Pulk said. “It’s not any one individual. It’s the golf course that you’ve got to play. I’ll go out there and give it my best shot, and we’ll add them up at the end of the day and see who’s at the top of the leaderboard.”
View results for Senior Open of Virginia Golf Championship