OCEAN ISLAND BEACH, N.C. –– Ben Schlottman has grown quite fond of the Palmetto High School Championship, and for good reason.
The Forsyth (N.C.) Country Day School senior is making his fourth appearance in the tournament this year. He tied for 12th as a freshman, finished T-22 as a sophomore, won team and individual titles as a junior, and now he has the first-round lead after a 7-under 65 Friday at Ocean Ridge Plantation’s Lion’s Paw course.
“I love this tournament,” said Schlottman, an Auburn signee from Advance, N.C. “I’ve played it four years now, and it would mean a whole lot to me if I were to win it again.”
Schlottman made eight birdies and one bogey as he and the rest of the final foursome raced to beat the rain. Inclement weather is expected in the area overnight and for much of Saturday, leaving the status of the final round in question.
Should rain wipe out Saturday’s scheduled finish, the 18-hole scores will determine the outcome, meaning Schlottman would win his second straight individual crown and Edison High School from Huntington Beach, Calif., would be team champions after an opening-round, 10-over 298.
“Whether we have to play or not, we’ll see, but if we have to play it I’m going to go out there and do the best I can to win it,” Schlottman said.
Six of Schlottman’s eight birdies came on the front nine Friday as the defending champ turned in 6-under 30. He birdied the par-4 first and par-5 second before going hybrid-wedge to 5 feet for birdie at the par-4 fourth.
Then at the par-3 sixth, he chipped in from 20 yards after missing the green for his fourth bride of the day.
“That’s when I knew that I had something special going,” Schlottman said.
After just missing a 30-footer for birdie at the par-4 seventh – “I hit the putt and I swear it was going in the hole, and it just touched the right lip” – Schlottman closed the opening nine with birdies at the par-5 eighth and par-4 ninth, the latter coming on a 20-foot putt.
His next birdie came at the par-5 13th after he hit his third shot to 2 feet from a greenside bunker. But then the weather started to worsen, the wind started to pick up and the temperature dropped, and Schlottman lost his focus temporarily, bogeying the par-4 14th.
“Pace of play got to me a little, got a little rushed and didn’t really go through my routine,” Schlottman said. “The weather didn’t bother me, but when we started having to play fast cause we knew the rain was coming, that kind of got to me a little.”
He added in a birdie at the par-3 17th to finish strong, and after his round, Schlottman had no complaints – “Putted it really well, hit it really well, chipped it really well. . . .”
The score broke the tournament record previously held by PGA Tour player Rickie Fowler, who shot 66 en route to winning the 2006 title. It also tied Schlottman’s best tournament score – he posted a 65 in the final round of the 2012 AJGA Burgett H. Mooney Jr. Rome Classic at Coosa Country Club in Rome, Ga.
It wasn’t, however, his career best. Schlottman has shot 59 at his home course, Oak Valley Golf Club in Advance, N.C.
Gray Townsend, Schlottman’s teammate, added a 1-under 71, but the Furies had to count an 81 and 86, and ended the first round tied with Charlotte Christian, the qualifying-round winner, for second at 15 over.
Meanwhile, it was a well-balanced effort from Edison. Nick Zapotoczny is in second place individually after a 3-under 69; Cameron Bauer posted a 75; and Kevin Steinfeld and Justin Thornburg chipped in with 77s.