by Craig Dolch, Special to AmateurGolf.com
JUNO BEACH, Fla. –
Mark Costanza (Craig Dolch photo)
It’s not easy to top starting a round at Seminole Golf Club with three birdies, but Mark Constanza did exactly that Thursday.
The 34-year-old investment banker from Morristown, N.J., added four consecutive birdies on the back nine to walk off the 16th green at 7-under in the first round of the George L. Coleman Invitational.
“I really had it going,” Costanza said. “It’s always kind of an eye-opener when you get to 7-under anywhere, especially this place.”
Not even finishing with bogeys on Seminole’s treacherous last two holes dimmed Costanza’s enthusiasm after his 5-under 67 gave him a three-shot lead in the Mid-Amateur division of the Coleman.
“I told my caddie afterward that I would have signed for a 67 before the round, so you can’t be too disappointed,” Costanza said. “The putter was working all day.”
Costanza’s 67 leads by three over Evan Beck of Virginia Beach, VA., last year’s runner-up, and Jeronimo Esteve of Windermere, FL. Jordan Batchelor of Jacksonville, FL., is fourth after a 71.
Scores were slightly lower than expected Thursday because more than 6 inches of rain fell on Seminole this week, taking some of the fire out of the fairways and greens.
This is only the second time Costanza has played in the Coleman, but he showed last year he’s a force when he finished third. Costanza played collegiately at SMU for one year before transferring to St. John’s.
Costanza won the New Jersey State Open and the Metropolitan Ike Stroke Play in 2020. He is best known for finishing runner-up to Coleman defending champion Stewart Hagestad in the 2021 U.S. Mid-Amateur.
When Hagestad, who opened with a 72, was told of Costanza’s round, he shook his head and said, “That’s an awesome round.”
Costanza made no secret of his desire to add the Coleman to his list of titles. “I’ve been looking forward to this tournament for a long time,” he said.
Beck, who was second to Hageman at last year’s Coleman, had a tidy round. He made three birdies against a lone bogey and, for good measure, parred the 17th and 18th holes. Esteve did even better at the closing hole, finishing with a birdie.
“I hit good shots, kept it in front of me and tried to minimize my mistakes,” said Beck, a 32-year-old who works for an institutional investment consulting firm.
“This is the favorite golf course I have ever played. It’s fun to have a chance to win. Hopefully, we will have a chance on Saturday.”
Hagestad birdied two of Seminole’s first three holes, but was 2-over the rest of the way, failing to birdie the par-5s on the back nine. Hagestad, who is tied for fifth with Yutaka Toyoshima of Japan and Zach Atkinson of Colleyville, TX., said players have to make adjustments because of the conditions.
“It’s a little softer, but that doesn’t make it any less difficult,” said Hagestad, the two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion from Newport Beach, Calif. “It’s just a different challenge.”
Costanza is making a one-hour commute to Seminole because he’s staying at a friend’s condo in Pompano Beach. That made for an early wakeup call Thursday to be ready for his 8:30 a.m. tee time. Now he can likely sleep in the next two days because the Coleman re-groups its players based on scores.
Seminole prides itself on having a fast pace-of-play. When the players received their first-round tee times, included was this line, bold-faced: Each round will not exceed more than 4 hours.”
Mike Finster of St. Petersburg didn’t have that worry Thursday. He was first off at 7:10 a.m. as a twosome with John Powers.
“We were hoping to make it in 3 hours,” Finster said. “We missed it by two minutes.”
Finster wasn’t complaining, however, after shooting a 2-under 70, thanks to an eagle on the par-5 14th hole when he hit a 7-iron to 30 feet. He led the Senior Division by one shot over five players.
“Being able to play that fast was tremendously helpful because you could get into a nice rhythm,” Finster said. “Plus, the wind wasn’t as robust as it normally is.”
Roger Newsome shot 71 to join the group of five players one back of Finster that included R.J. Nakashian of Palm Beach Gardens, FL., Jody Fanagan of Dublin, Ireland, Pete Williams of Juno Beach and Lee Porter of Pinehurst. N.C.
If there were a skins competition, Newsom would have won one on the demanding par-4 12th hole, when he holed a 114-yard shot from a fairway bunker for an unlikely eagle.
“I hit a 52 (-degree wedge) and it went past 20 feet past and it backed up right into the hole,” Newsom said. “If it hadn’t hit the pin it would have probably backed up into the bunker.”
It’s a razor-thin line at Seminole.
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Craig Dolch is a 40-year journalist who has covered golf, been to 50 majors as well as a series of Ryder Cups, caddied at the Honda Classic and for seven years hosted golf radio show on ESPN West Palm. He was a longtime golf writer for the Palm Beach Post and his work as appeared in Sports Illustrated, New York Times, Golf World, Golf Digest and USA TODAY.