Former H.S. rivals Harkins, Verna lead Straight Down Fall Classic
Brandon Harkins tees off at San Luis Obispo CC
Brandon Harkins tees off at San Luis Obispo CC

They played for rival high schools in California’s East Bay, but now Brandon Harkins and Tony Verna have formed a successful pairing at the Straight Down Fall Classic.

Harkins and Verna shot 8-under 63 to take the first-round lead in the Straight Down Fall Classic. The scratch pro-am tournament uses a best-ball format, so birdies are a necessity. Harkins and Verna made 12 on the slick, sloping greens of San Luis Obispo Country Club.

The final round will be played Sunday. Admission is free to the public.

Harkins, who played the past two seasons on the PGA Tour, made eight birdies Saturday, while Verna contributed four. A team’s score is the total of its lowest score from each hole.

“It was pretty stress-free,” said Harkins, a Chico State alum. Verna played college golf at UC-Santa Barbara.

They’ll start Sunday’s final round with a one-shot lead over Greg and Doug Bauman. The father-and-son team plays out of Biltmore Country Club in North Barrington, Illinois.

Four teams are tied for third place after shooting 65, including the duo led by longtime PGA Tour star Kenny Perry. Perry, who won 14 times on the PGA Tour and once ranked No. 4 in the world, is playing the Fall Classic for the first time. He is playing with amateur Kris Marshall.

The other three teams that shot 65 are Ricky Barnes and Andrew Medley, Jason Gore and Kevin Marsh, and Jason Ballard and Patrick Dipasquale.

The Chicago Cubs’ Ian Happ and his professional teammate, Rod Pampling, are tied for sixth place after shooting 66. Two-time Fall Classic champion Edward Loar and amateur Todd Mitchell also shot 66.

Pampling, a three-time Tour winner who’s making his Fall Classic debut, was impressed by Happ’s performance in the sport that he plays part-time. Happ is a 2 handicap. He’s hit 50 home runs in three Major League seasons.

“To see a guy who’s 25 swing as fast as he does, I can only imagine what he does to a baseball,” Pampling said. “It hurts just watching him. It’s a pretty powerful motion. He has a good swing. You can see the passion he has. There’s a lot of good shots in there.”

Gore and Marsh, who were college teammates at Pepperdine, will be seeking their third Fall Classic title. Ballard won the 2017 Fall Classic with Straight Down founder Mike Rowley. Barnes won the 2003 U.S. Amateur and has played more than 300 PGA Tour events.

Perry, 59, also is a two-time U.S. Senior Open champion and has played on winning Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams. Marshall, his amateur partner, also is playing this tournament for the first time.

San Luis Obispo Country Club is known for its challenging putting surfaces, and they lived up to their reputation Saturday.

“It’s the hardest 18 holes of green complexes that I’ve played besides Augusta National,” said Perry, who was runner-up in the 2009 Masters. “We did OK. We’re just getting our feet wet.”

Harkins and Verna have been friends since junior golf. They spent a year traveling together and playing professional golf in Canada, as well. Verna is a reinstated amateur who now works in renewable energy in San Francisco. He has won two of the past three club championships at Olympic Club. “Out here, it’s about keeping it below the hole,” Harkins said. That’s what we tried to do, even if it meant missing the green. The greens are so good.”

Sunday's tee times will begin at approximately 7:30 a.m.

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ABOUT THE Straight Down Fall Classic

Annual invitational event sponsored by apparel manufacturer Straight Down and supported by sponsor companies from the California Central Coast.

Format is one pro, paired with one amateur -- pros are PGA Club pros and members of various professional tours with enough "big names" to bring out thousands of spectators. And the spectators are rewarded with up- close access normally not found at a PGA Tour event. The ALS Foundation was named as the designated beneficiary in 2009.

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