seems like a modest guy. Chances are he wouldn’t have picked himself to be leading the Jones Cup Invitational after any round this week even if he came into the tournament on a hot streak.
And so, he definitely would not have expected to find himself atop the leaderboard following the opening round in the prestigious tournament with a star-studded field based on the way he felt about his game coming into the tournament on the challenging Seaside Course at the Sea Island Golf Club.
“Terrible,” said Britt when asked about how he had been playing prior to his Tuesday round on the Georgia coast.
Yet, Britt was indeed the leader on the scoreboard following the first 18 holes in the three-day, 54-hole tournament with a field that features 23 of the top 25 players in the AmateurGolf.com senior rankings.
The golfer from West End, N.C. who won the North & South Senior last August
, finished his first round at 2-under-par 68 on the par-70 layout that meanders through coastal marshes and plays along the shores of the St. Simons Sound.
Britt, ranked 17th in the Golfweek/AmateurGolf.com rankings, made a key par-save early in his back nine and also made back-to-back birdies on his final two holes to grab the early lead. He was one of only three players to break par in the opening round which was played in a steady wind that blew at least 10 mph throughout the day and gusted upward of 15 mph at times.
The other two players who finished in red numbers were Canadian Dave Bunker
and Atlanta resident Billy Mitchell
. Both players shot 1-under 69 and were tied for second after the first day of play.
Ranked 13th coming into the Jones Cup Senior, Bunker had three birdies and two bogeys on his front nine holes. He made birdies on the short par-4 8th hole and also the par-4 ninth like Britt did to close his round. Bunker made nine straight pars on Seaside’s back nine to close out his solid opening round.
For Mitchell, who is currently ninth in the rankings, Tuesday’s first round was his first competitive round on the Sea Island course which plays host to the PGA Tour’s RMS Classic hosted by Sea Island touring Davis Love III each fall. He also started on the back nine and parred every hole going out to make the turn at even par for the day.
On the front nine, he made his first birdie of the day at the par-4 second hole and then reeled off two more at the par-3 third and par-4 fourth to reach 3-under. He gave up his first stroke with a bogey at the sixth and finished with a bogey on his last hole when he rolled a slick downhill birdie putt past the hole and couldn’t convert his par putt back up the slope.
Still, the eighth-ranked senior amateur was pleased with his play.
“I made a couple of good up-and-downs early in the round and had a good run with those birdies,” Mitchell said. “It was a little bit of a sloppy finish. I’m a little disappointed in that. But before I played, if you would told me 1-under, I would have signed for that.”
Mitchell said he hopes to get more comfortable on Seaside as the tournament plays out. He played a practice round Monday like most of the players before teeing off on Tuesday.
“The wind is especially tough when you get (out by the ocean). It’s howling, and there are a lot of crosswinds,” he noted. “This is not a course you learn in one practice round. The key is putting it in the middle of the green, and take 25 or 30 feet. The edges of these greens are penal. If I’m under par at the end of the week, I like my chances. It doesn’t look like the wind is going to stop blowing, either.”
Britt made three birdies on his outgoing nine while also starting on the back side of the course. Turning at 3-under, he gave those strokes back with bogeys on three of his first five holes on his closing nine. In between, he did save par from the hazard on the par-4 second when he hit his approach from 140 yards and made his putt for par.
At the eighth, he hit an easy 9-iron from 126 yards within inches of the hole for a tap-in birdie and then made a birdie at the ninth to move to 2-under. Britt walked off the course with the lead, and when the final few groups finished, he still had that lead.
“Into the wind, you definitely had to hit at least two more clubs,” Britt said. “Yesterday, it was probably blowing as close to as hard as it was today, so I was able to get a good feel for it.
“I just putted really well today. It’s a driving course for me. Today, I hit it where I could find it, and the guys who hit it straight are the ones who will do good.”
Eight players finished the opening round at even par and will start Wednesday’s second round two shots behind the leader. That group includes Mike McCoy
, who will captain the this year's United States Walker Cup Team
at St. Andrews, and Jack Hall
, who are ranked sixth and 10th, respectively in the current senior rankings.
Another group of eight players shot 1-over in the opening round and are three back of Britt, including defending champion Matt Sughrue
and Bob Royak
, currently No. 7 in the rankings who won the 2020 Jones Cup Senior
Six players were tied at 2-over after the first 18 holes while another eight players were tied at 3-over and will go into the second round five off the lead.
, the current No. 1-ranked senior in the world who won both the U.S.
and Canadian Senior Amateurs
last summer, struggled a bit Tuesday. Strawn did not make a birdie over his round as he managed 12 pars and six bogeys for the day en route to a 4-over 76 which left him tied for 47th place at the conclusion of the day.
Four-time Jones Cup Senior champion Doug Hanzel
, who fell to Strawn in the finals of the U.S. Senior Amateur, also shot 6-over on Tuesday as did Allen Peake
, last year’s runner-up.
The tournament continues Wednesday with an 8:15 start off the first and 10th tees.
• • • • •
Chillin’ on the Coast:
While the Jones Cup Senior Invitational is a serious competition, the trip to the Georgia coast is also a bit of a vacation for many in the field this week.
Some are escaping frigid temperatures back home and are coming here to enjoy what they hope are warmer conditions, which is certainly the case this week with temperatures in the mid-80s.
When not playing, they might take a morning or late afternoon walk on the beach, perhaps with their wives or families, and of course, at night, they have numerous dining options on St. Simons Island including several seafood restaurants which are favorites for tourists year-round.
But, the Georgia barbeque ain’t bad, either, according to 2022 tournament champion Matt Sughrue
. The Arlington, Va. golfer loves to eat at Southern Soul BBQ, a well-known spot in the heart of the island that locals and visitors flock to regularly.
“I could eat at that place three or four times while we’re there,” said Seghrue who made the trip south from Virginia with his wife.
The couple did plan to eat at a few other places, however. “I can’t convince my wife to eat BBQ and french fries every night,” last year’s winner said with a laugh.
Spring in Georgia:
Speaking of warm weather, the Jones Cup players are being greeted with as much sunshine and spring-like temperatures as they are Southern hospitality this week.
Monday, it was in the lower 80s for the practice round which was held under sun-kissed skies. The first round was played in temperatures in the 70s at the start that climbed to as high as 86 by mid-afternoon.
Wednesday’s forecast calls for more sun and a high of 80 while the final round on Thursday is expected to see more sunshine and temperatures again climbing into the 80s.
As for the wind, it could blow as much as 10 mph for round two on Wednesday with Thursday’s early forecast predicting winds as high as 12 mph in the early afternoon.
And, oh. The pollen is out, and the azaleas are blooming, too.