Bryce Lewis (Tennessee Athletics photo)
continued his stellar summer play Wednesday as he jumped to the top of the leaderboard in the first round of the Southern Amateur Championship at the Sea Island Golf Club on St. Simons Island, Ga.
Finishing up on the par-71 Plantation Course as darkness fell in coastal Georgia, the University of Tennessee golfer carded a 7-under-par 64 score to grab the early lead by a stroke over three other golfers in the long-running tournament which still has three rounds left to play.
Lewis, from Hendersonville, Tenn., won the Sunnehanna Amateur
in mid-June before finishing fourth late last month at the Northeast Amateur.
“It was really steady on the back, and I was able to hole it out on the last hole for a three, so it was a nice finish,” Lewis said. “I’ve never done that before in competition.”
Wednesday’s first round was actually suspended by darkness about 8:30 p.m eastern time and will resume at 7:30 on Thursday morning while the second round will also begin as scheduled at the same time.
A thunderstorm halted play at 3:15 in the afternoon Wednesday and play did not resume until 5:30 p.m., allowing about three hours of daylight to get in as much of the opening round as possible before dark.
Only 12 players still have to finish out their first round on Thursday. All of those players have less than five holes remaining to play.
With his strong play in the early summer schedule, Lewis entered this week second in the Elite Amateur Series standings after the first four tournaments. This is the first year of the series which includes seven of the top amateur tournaments and will award the eventual points champion exemptions into USGA Championships, select PGA Tour events and also Korn Ferry events.
The Southern Amateur is the fifth tournament of the new series which culminates at the Western Amateur the first week of August.
On Wednesday, Lewis closed his opening round with the eagle-3 at the par-5 18th where the green is guarded by water. His round included six total birdies including three straight on holes 13 through 15. The lone blemish on his scorecard was a bogey on the par-3 seventh hole which plays over water to a large green.
Lewis leads by a shot over a trio of players including South Carolina’s Jack Wall
, Georgia Southern’s Mason Williams
and Louisville’s Jiri Zuska
. All three players shot 6-under 65 on Wednesday.
Jack Wall (Kevin Price photo)
Wall and Williams played together in the same afternoon pairing. Wall is coming off a tie for 10th last week at the Trans-Mississippi tournament where he finished only three shots back of winner William Mouw.
“I hit the ball really well last week, but was just lacking with the putter a little bit,” said Wall, who worked on his putting leading into this week. “I made a couple of tweaks and they worked. It was nice to see some putt drop out there today.”
Wall started on the back nine and came out on fire with five straight birdies before making a clutch two-putt par on his sixth hole just prior to the horn sounding for the suspension of play. He added two more birdies while also having a bogey over his final 12 holes after returning to the course when play resumed.
Zuska also has been on a strong run of late. He was in the same group of players with Wall that tied for 10th last week at the Trans-Mississippi tournament. He finished fourth at the Sunnehanna and tied for 15th at the Northeast Amateur. Zuska made six birdies in his bogey-free opening round on Wednesday.
Three players will be two strokes off the lead going into round two. One of those is Louisiana Tech fifth-year senior Sam Murphy who held the lead at 5-under 65 after the morning wave of players finished.
Murphy said he was just steady from tee to green in a round that included four birdies and an eagle on the par-5 14th hole after he drained a 25-foot putt. He hit a 7-iron into the front pin from 200 yards.
“I hit it well off the tee and didn’t miss a lot of greens,” he said. “All in all, it was kinda smooth, didn’t have to force anything. I made a couple of good pars coming in and kept it together.”
Ten players were at 4-under after Wednesday’s play including David Ford, a quarterfinalist at the recent North & South Amateur.
• • • • •
Rain, Rain Go Away:
The thunderstorm that rolled into the local area mid-afternoon Wednesday was the third in as many days. This one came earlier, though, than those the previous two afternoons which hit in the late afternoon.
The recent storms left the fairways and greens on the Plantation course a bit soft for the start of Southern Amateur.
Sam Murphy, who shot 5-under 66 on Wednesday,y said the playing conditions had advantages and disadvantages for the opening round.
“There’s some meat out there for sure. There are some tough holes out there for sure, not getting much roll in the fairways,” he said. “The end of the front nine played really tough, especially with wind. The back nine was a little easier with the fairways being soft. It opened it up a little bit and you could place it a little easier.”
A smaller pop-up shower came into the area about 1 p.m. Wednesday but lasted less than a half-hour and didn’t interrupt play.
Thunderstorms are typical in the South in the summer months. Storms are in the forecast for the next three days as well.
Playing at Home:
One of the youngest players in the field is local resident Jackson Byrd who also got off to a fast start in Wednesday’s first round. The St. Simons Island golfer who plays on the high school team at nearby Frederica Academy posted a 3-under-par 68 in the first round and will go into the second round on Thursday just four shots off the lead.
Byrd, who will be a sophomore this coming school year, is the son of PGA Tour player Jonathan Byrd who is playing this week in the Barracuda Championship in California. He plays out of the Sea Island Golf Club along with several other touring professional who live on St. Simons Island.
Jackson Byrd also practices and plays regularly at Sea Island. One of his high school teammates is Jack Roberts who won the Southern Junior Championship last summer.
Back Down Here:
Jackson Palmer returned to coastal Georgia this week looking to pick up where he left off here in early February when he won the prestigious Jones Cup Invitational at Ocean Forest Golf Club on Sea Island.
The Notre Dame golfer led from wire-to-wire and finished the 54-hole tournament at 5-under-par for a three-shot win. He managed a 76 in the final round which took almost six hours to complete as the players battled a long course, cold temperatures and howling winds with gusts blowing as high as 25 mph throughout the day.
In Wednesday’s opening round here, Jackson shot a 1-over 72 with two birdies, a bogey and a double-bogey on his scorecard. He is currently tied for 83rd.
Jackson entered this week as the 11th-ranked amateur in the U.S. by AmatuerGolf.com. He had nine top-10 finishes this past season as a junior for the Fighting Irish.
Last Ones In:
The last four golfers to make the field for this week’s tournament through the on-site qualifier on Monday all had solid opening rounds on Wednesday.
Leesburg, Ga., native Brantley Baker is among the early leaders after carding a 4-under 67 over the first 18 holes. Baker plays at Georgia Southern University, where he made the lineup as a sophomore in the team’s last nine tournaments this past season and finished inside the top-20 five times including four consecutive starts in the spring.
Baker tied for third with a 6-under 65 in the Monday 18-hole qualifier along with Ryan Davidson from Flowery Branch, Ga.. Davidson, a recent high-school graduate and last year’s Southern Junior runner-up, shot 72 in the first round on Wednesday.
Brody Stevenson from St. Augustine, Fla., won the on-site qualifier with a 63 score. Stevenson, who graduates from high school next year but is verbally committed to Florida Gulf Coast, also posted a 72 in his first round. Gray Albright from Ocala, Fla., shot 64 in the Monday event and shot even-par 71 over Wednesday’s opening round.
Others Worth Noting:
Last year’s Southern Am winner Maxwell Moldovan opened with an even-par 71 on Wednesday as one of the earliest starters. Caleb Surratt, the current points leader in the Elite Amateur Series opened with a 3-under 68 as did Tommy Morrison who recently made the finals in the North & South Amateur at Pinehurst.