Story written by Craig Smith, Director of Media Relations for the USGA.
ARDMORE, PA (August 22, 2005) -- Charlie Beljan, 20, of Mesa, Ariz., made nine birdies and shot a 6-under-par 64 at Philadelphia Country Club to lead the field of 312 golfers by four strokes after the first round of stroke play Monday at the U.S. Amateur, being hosted by Merion Golf Club.
Beljan’s nearest challengers were Andrew Parr, 22, and Ryan Yip, 20, of Canada; Ryan Blaum, 21, of Coral Gables, Fla.; Jay Choi, 21, of Cerritos, Calif.; and Chandler Cocco, 20, of Bend, Ore, who finished at 2-under 68 at the 6,967-yard Philadelphia C.C. course. The low scorers at Merion were 36-year-old Mark Strickland of Woodstock, Ga., and Todd Mitchell, 27, of Bloomington, Ill., who had a 1-under-par 69s over the 6,846-yard championship course.
In all, 16 golfers broke par, but 14 of them played their first round at Philadelphia C.C. The golfers will play the opposite course on Tuesday.
The 2002 U.S. Junior Amateur winner, Beljan made all of his birdie putts from 20 feet and closer. It was a good sign that he is completely healthy after suffering from two bulging discs in his back that kept him off the golf course for two months.
"My first tournament back was the qualifier," said Beljan, who has his girlfriend Katie Heffel caddieing for him.
"I knew if I could get out to a great start, things would get rolling," said Beljan, a junior at the University of New Mexico. "I didn’t hit it that great today, but I made the putts. I made the up-and-downs. Everything fell together. Other than the finals of the Junior, this is one of my best."
Beljan, whose 64 ties for the second-lowest stroke play score in Amateur history, is one of 11 USGA champions in the field. Another is Danny Green, a 48-year-old from Jackson, Tenn., who won the 1999 U.S. Mid-Amateur and was runner-up at the 1989 Amateur, the last time it was played at Merion.
Green was fairly comfortable was his 4-over 74 at Merion.
"I’m just trying to get a tee time for Wednesday," said Green, referring to the first round of match play for the lowest 64 scores after two rounds of stroke play. "This tournament is not about 49-year-olds, it’s about the college-age players and how far they can boom it. But if the course gets firmer and faster, it will play into my hands. If a kid drives it 40 yards past me in the rough, that’s not an advantage for him."
Among those exempt into the field were players from both sides of the recent Walker Cup Match, an amateur team competition with the USA against Great Britain and Ireland. American John Holmes, 23, of Campbellsville, Ky., was low among his teammates with a 69 at Philadelphia C.C. Sixteen-year-old Oliver Fisher of England and Lloyd Saltman, 19, of Scotland, each posted 70s at Philadelphia CC.
Reigning NCAA champion James Lepp, 21, of Canada, who will be a senior at the University of Washington, had his 71 at Merion, the third best score at the championship course where match play will take place from Wednesday through Sunday.