ROLAND, Ark. – Seth Reeves and Sam Smith felt they were having a solid summer of competition and were confident coming into this year’s Western Amateur.
That confidence and good feeling about their games certainly showed Tuesday in the opening round of the 111th edition of this storied amateur championship at the exclusive Alotian Club, located just outside of Little Rock.
Reeves, a senior at Georgia Tech, and Smith, a recent graduate at USC, along with Stanford senior Cameron Wilson, shot 7-under 65s – one shot off the course record – to grab the early lead in this grueling test of golf.
They held a one-stroke lead over Jordan Niebrugge, who earlier this month won the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, and Texas A&M’s Tyler Dunlap. Andrew Yun and Patrick Rodgers were another shot back.
Michael Weaver, runner-up at last year’s U.S. Amateur, Justin Thomas, Carlos Ortiz, Toni Hakula and Beau Hossler were tied at 68.
“I’ve had a good summer and felt really good about my game coming in,” said Reeves, who won the Southeastern Amateur, was a quarterfinalist at the North & South Amateur and posted top 15s at the NCAA Championship, Palmetto Amateur and Dogwood Invitational. “Everything was just kind of working for me out there today.”
Smith echoed pretty much the same sentiment.
“I’ve been playing well all summer,” said Smith, who was T-1 at the NCAA Northwest Regional and had a T-22 at the Trans-Miss Amateur. “I’ve had a lot of great rounds and have progressively been getting better. So this wasn’t a surprise to me. I expected to go out and play really well because this course fits my eye from tee to green.”
Reeves opened with birdies on the first and fifth holes before his lone bogey, at the seventh. He bounced back to birdie No. 8 and added five more on the back side, at 10, 11, 15, 16 and 18.
“I was pretty relaxed out there, and I think that was a key for me,” Reeves said. “My longest putt (made) was an 18-footer, at the 15th. Overall I gave myself a lot of birdie opportunities and took advantage of them.
“The golf course is perfect, very pristine, but if you’re not careful you can put yourself in some tough spots. I was fortunate not to do that – a very good start, without a doubt.”
Smith played half of his round with birdies, making nine to go with two bogeys. He birdied Nos. 2 and 4, but bogeyed No. 7. He followed with birdies at 8, 9, 10, 12 and 13, before a bogey at 14. He closed with birdies at 16 and 17.
“I putted well and didn’t make a lot of mistakes,” Smith said. “I put the ball where I wanted off the tee and capitalized on my solid iron shots. I hit it close a lot. I think I had four or five 2-footers for birdie.”
Wilson came in with a bogey-free effort over the 7,480-yard, Tom Fazio-designed Alotian course, notching seven birdies: three on the front side and four on the back.
Niebrugge, who followed his APL victory with a win a week later in the Wisconsin State Amateur, had one of the day’s rare bogey-free rounds. He made three birdies (1, 4 and 5) on the front side and three (10, 12, 14) on the back.
“You don’t go in thinking you’re going to shoot that low, but I just got done playing a tough course at my state amateur last week (The Bog in Saukville, Wis.), so I felt pretty good about this course,” said Niebrugge, an Oklahoma State sophomore.
Weaver, a senior at California who tied for first this year at the NCAA Northwest Regional and made the cut at the U.S. Open, made one bogey to go along with his trio of birdies and an eagle.
“I played really well, and my short game kept me in it today,” said Weaver, who finished second this summer at the Players Amateur, T-10 at the Northeast Am and 14th at the Southern Am. “I made all my up-and-downs and made a couple of long putts, one for eagle at 14. So all in all, a very good day.
“I was thinking the scores might be a little higher, but I saw there were some 7 unders and a few guys at 5 or 6, so it was definitely out there. “Today might have been the day to shoot low. If you just keep going along shooting one or two under par, you’ll be all right.”
• SOLID START: Two of the leading contenders for mid-amateur spots on this year’s U.S. Walker Cup team got off to solid starts. South Carolna’s Todd White, a semifinalist at last year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur, opened with a 3-under 69, notching four birdies and a lone bogey. Iowa’s Mike McCoy, who competed in this year’s U.S. Senior Open, posted a 2-under 70. His was a roller-coaster round, with six birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey – at No. 18, his ninth hole.
• UP AND DOWN: Reigning U.S. Amateur champion Steven Fox had one of his best rounds of the summer, with a 2-under 70. It was a bit wild as the recent UT-Chattanooga graduate posted six birdies, but also had a double bogey and a pair of bogeys.
• NEED TO GET IT GOING: Bobby Wyatt, considered one of the leading prospects for one of the five remaining U.S. Walker Cup spots, had his problems, especially over his first nine holes. The Alabama senior, starting on the back nine, made three bogeys and a double and made the turn in 41. Then he bogeyed No. 1, but managed to post a couple of birdies coming in for a 4-over 76.