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Gasparilla Invitational: Derek Busby jumps out to 5-shot lead
Derek Busby has a 5-shot lead in the Mid-Am division
Derek Busby has a 5-shot lead in the Mid-Am division

The thing about Central Florida winter weather that some people don't understand is that it can change in a heartbeat, dropping from shirts and shorts to freezing your you-know-what off in the span of a day.

That's exactly what happened in Tampa at the Gasparilla Invitational, where the practice rounds and first round on Thursday saw temperatures in the low 80s before a major shift brought in winds and low the thermometer dropping to the low 50s. That brought out the sweaters, and caused the birdies to hide out (from the scorecards that is).

Thursday, there were 16 scores in red-numbers. Today? Only three.

One of those scores, a 5-under 65 by Derek Busby,, is even more amazing given that it tied the low round of the tournament and bested his first round 67 by two.

"Definitely tough conditions," said Busby in an exclusive phone interview with AmateurGolf.com.

And if you wonder if equipment makes a difference, think of what's important on a day like Friday, when control is key. Busby credited his new wedges with helping him make the key shots he needed in the 100 yard range. (And while we didn't get the brand he's playing, our detectives are on it for tomorrow - stay tuned.)

"I made some equipment changes in the offseason," explained Busby, "most notably to my wedges I put in a lot of time getting the soles and bounces just right, this new setup has enabled me to have more shots from inside 100 yds and today that was the major difference."

Busby is a proven winner with USGA experience. He won the 2017 Crane Cup wire-to-wire. At The Floridian, Busby took at two stroke lead into the final round and closed the deal with a 69.

If he gets off to the kind of start tomorrow that he did today, it's going to be hard to catch the Ruston, Louisiana resident. His scorecard today? Eagle-birdie-birdie and a 31 on the front nine. And the first hole is a par four.

"I hit a driver downwind to 50 yards, then played a nipping spinner lob wedge, (a shot I just learned how to play) that two-hopped into the hole," said Busby, before explaining his strategy going forward.

"When you get out to a fast start you want to make sure you continue to think well," said Busby of his round today. "The conditions were so tough it forced me to continue to think and focus on every shot."

The Gasparilla field has improved quite a bit in the past few years, and trailing Busby is the fifth ranked Mid-Amateur in the U.S. (and 2019 U.S. Mid-Am runner-up), Joe Deraney (68-69). Deraney is capable of posting low numbers, like his final round 66 that led to a Stocker Cup title in Carmel in October -- nearly a course record. New Jersey's Michael Stamberger is tied with Senior leader Jimmy Jones at 2-under 138.

SENIOR DIVISION
Playing from the same tees as the Mid-Ams, the seniors are eligible for the overall title -- a format this website approves of especially when many of the "young seniors" can play with the younger guys.

After 18 holes, Richard Kerper and Jones were tied after rounds of 3-under 67 while AmateurGolf.com's 2019 Senior Player-of-the-Year Doug Hanzel was a shot back at 2-under 68.

But thanks to hanging close to par with a 71 on Friday, the veteran Florida player Jones has a 5-shot lead heading into the final round. Jones stands at 2-under 138 while Kerper trails at 3-over 143 and Hanzel is tied with 2019 U.S. Senior Am champion Bob Royak at 144.

There are 35 seniors in the field, and just over 100 mid-ams. The 54-hole tournament continues Friday, with the final round being played Saturday.

Could any of the chasers make things interesting? With weather dropping into the low 30s overnight in the Tampa Bay area, anything is possible. We know the sweaters and hand warmers will be out in the morning.

Results: Gasparilla Invitational
1LADerek BusbyRuston, LA40067-65-74=206
2FLMarc DullWinter Haven, FL30069-71-69=209
3MSJoseph DeraneyBelden, MS20068-69-73=210
T4TXColby HarwellSan Antonio, TX20070-72-70=212
T4TNPhilip LeeNashville, TN20069-70-73=212

View full results for Gasparilla Invitational

ABOUT THE Gasparilla Invitational

54-hole individual stroke play championship with a cut after 36 holes to the low 60 and ties. Good mix of Florida players and national competitors looking for an early season tune up. Played on a traditional, tree lined golf course that isn't very long but has small, undulating greens.

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