Chris Wheeler (Texas Golf Association/Twitter photo)
Chris Wheeler has been here before. He’s just hoping this time will be different. The 36-year-old from Addison, Texas holds the first-round lead of the 110th Texas Amateur Championship after turning in a brilliant 8-under 64 at Dallas Athletic Club’s Jack Nicklaus-designed Blue Course.
A 2005 Tulane graduate and former professional who was reinstated as an amateur in 2011, Wheeler poured in birdie after birdie Thursday morning at DAC. He totaled nine of them on the day and suffered only one bogey. Wheeler will carry a three-shot lead over Arlington’s Paul Gonzalez into Friday’s second round.
While at Tulane, Wheeler scored one collegiate win and two other amateur victories. After he graduated, he won a couple of mini-tour events as a professional before returning to the amateur game. These days, Wheeler plays with a brace on his left knee after a flag football injury eight years ago left him without an Anterior Cruciate Ligament. The ACL injury hasn’t slowed him in the least, as evidenced with his first-round performance at DAC.
“I got my wedges really dialed in today,” Wheeler said. “With no wind out there and the greens really receptive, it was nice to pick a distance and hit it to that number. And I made the putts I was supposed to make, the ones inside of 10 feet. The greens here are perfect. I love these greens. The speed is very comfortable for me.”
No stranger to the top of leaderboards, Wheeler held the first- and second-round leads at the 2017 Texas Mid-Amateur Championship. From there, things didn’t go as planned, however. A disappointing final round sent him down into a tie for 23rd place. Wheeler played in the last group that day with his good friend Colby Harwell, who birdied six of his first eight holes and cruised to a five-shot victory.
“Colby made such a charge that I got outside of my bubble and started watching what he was doing,” Wheeler recalled. “Things went downhill for me from there. I think this week it’s really important for me to stay patient, stay in my bubble and keep my head down. I can’t get distracted by what’s going on around me, especially with so many talented players in the field.”
Foremost among those chasing Wheeler is Gonzalez, the UT-Arlington junior who made six birdies to post a 5-under 67. Gonzalez is the 428th ranked amateur in the world; he finished T-19 last week at the Dogwood Invitational. Gonzalez in April had a top-5 finish at the Sun Belt Conference Championship and earned second-team all-conference honors.
At DAC on Thursday, Gonzalez said it took him a little while to get going.
“My first nine was kind of scrappy,” he said. “My putting kept me in there. On my back nine, I found something in my swing. I started hitting a couple shots close and took advantage of it. It was mainly my alignment, setting up to the ball. I fixed that and let it go from there.”
Feeling more comfortable over the ball, Gonzalez started striping it. His precision led to four birdies in a seven-hole stretch during his inward nine.
Tied for third place at 4-under 68, four shots behind Wheeler, are Leander’s Wes Artac, the 2014 West Texas Amateur champion, Logan Davis from Humble and Conroe’s Chad Sewell. Artac jarred four birdies and went around the Blue Course without a bogey. Davis’s card was more colorful; he had eight birdies, three bogeys and a double-bogey. Sewell carded six birdies and a pair of bogeys.
Blaine Hale, a DAC member and the 163rd-ranked amateur in the world, and Fort Worth’s Travis Woolf share sixth place at 3-under 69.
Alongside all the gifted golf on display Thursday, the course itself was outstanding. It was no small feat to get the Blue Course in mint condition for the championship. On Sunday, just five days before the 110th Texas Amateur started, a violent storm ripped through the Dallas area. More than 300,000 residents were left without power as the 70 mph winds downed power lines and tore sections of the city apart. DAC took on two inches of rain in less than an hour; 15 trees were uprooted and countless limbs and debris covered the Blue Course.
Kevin Nettles, the club’s longtime Superintendent, and his 32-person crew reacted quickly. They had all the downed trees, limbs and debris cleared by Monday night. On Tuesday, they were able to mow the entire course to get it back into its usual pristine condition.
“The golf course is so pure, it’s really amazing,” Wheeler said. “My neighborhood is still cleaning up trees out of the streets. People are just starting to get power back. The fact that the course is so immaculate, it is truly remarkable. I don’t know how they did it.”
The 144-player field played the par-72 Blue Course at 6,869 yards in the first round. Twenty-three players broke par on the day. Seven of them posted scores in the 60s. The DAC members were out in full force on Thursday. Several volunteered to assist in live scoring; others simply enjoyed the high-level golf as gallery members.
ABOUT THE Texas Amateur
72 hole medal play walking-only championship first
played in 1906. At the completion of 36 holes the field
is cut to the low 54 and ties plus all players within 10
strokes of the lead.
18-hole qualifying rounds are held throughout the state
for players not otherwise exempt into the tournament
proper. Visit the Texas Golf Assocation website for
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