RUMFORD, R.I. – By his own evaluation, Jordan Russell said his senior season this year for Texas A&M was “pretty disappointing, especially after how good I played in my junior year.”
One thing Russell knew: he was a better player than what he showed this past season, in which he had only two top-10 finishes.
He certainly made his point Wednesday in the opening round of the Northeast Amateur at the par-69, Donald Ross-designed Wannamoisett Country Club.
With seven birdies against only one bogey, Russell proved as hot as the mid-90s-temperature day, shooting a 6-under-par 63 to grab a three-shot lead in this, the 51st edition of this championship.
“I’m from Texas, so I’m kind of used to the heat,” said Russell, a native of College Station. “I’m sure it affected some guys more than others, but it still was pretty hot out there.”
Johannes Veerman, a junior at Texas A&M, and Brad Schneider, who recently finished his college career at Central Florida, shot 3-under 66s to share second place.
Veerman, who almost lost his right thumb when a rocket-like firework exploded in his hand on Jan. 1, had seven birdies, a pair of bogeys and a double bogey.
“I hit some good iron shots, mostly wedges into the greens, but mainly I just made a lot of putts,” said the long-hitting Veerman.
Schneider, the 2012 winner of the Golf Coaches Association of America’s David Toms Award after overcoming serious leg injuries and numerous surgeries, notched a pair of birdies, an eagle at the course’s lone par 5, the 17th, and one bogey.
“I played (Northeast Amateur) two years ago, and I think that helped me feel more comfortable out there today,” Schneider said. “I left myself in some good positions on the greens and didn’t have a three-putt.”
Russell, who was a second-team All-American as a junior when he had a pair of seconds and was third at the Big 12 Championship, made the turn in 1 under after a 25-foot birdie putt at No. 4, a bogey at No. 8 and a birdie at the ninth.
Then he got rolling. He sank a 30-footer at 10 for birdie, a 3-footer at 13, a 25-footer at 15, a 2-footer at 17 and a 20-footer at 18.
“Obviously my putter was really going for me,” said Russell, who came into the event after tying for fifth at the Texas State Amateur. “I think playing here last year (he shot even par and tied for 22nd) really helped me.
“I really had a good feel on the greens, especially as far the speed,” Russell said. “I think the greens are much faster this year, but knowing the slopes helped me out a lot.
“The main thing out here is hitting fairways,” said Russell, who missed only one fairway. “If you’re in the fairway, you can attack the pins. If you play out of the rough, you’re struggling all day.”
Twenty-three players posted under-par scores on opening day with seven shooting 2-under 67, including college player of the year Justin Thomas of Alabama and 53-year-old Tim Jackson.
Jackson, whose best Northeast Amateur showing was a tie for fourth in 2005, had a wild ride of a round. He made bogey at Nos. 2 and 4 and then reeled off five consecutive birdies, from 5 through 9. He gave up bogeys at 10, 12 and 15, but closed strong with birdies at 17 and 18.
Mitch Sutton, a Canadian who plays at North Carolina State, had a hole-in-one at the 210-yard 12th hole using a 4-iron.
The average first-day score for the 82 players in the starting field was 71.11, or 2.11 over par. The toughest hole was the 505-yard, par-4 second, which played to 4.33; the easiest was the par-5, 17th, at 4.79.