BRYAN, Texas – Austin Connelly has played a lot of golf with Gordon Neale during the past couple of years.
So it was no surprise to Connelly when Neale posted a 7-under 64 Wednesday at Miramont Country Club to take the second-round lead at the Junior PGA Championship.
“I’ve seen him do this before,” Connelly said. “He’s a streaky player. He can definitely make a lot of birdies.”
Neale began his opening round with five straight birdies – two-putting from 30 feet at the par-5 first hole, chipping in at the par-3 third and making putts inside of 5 feet at Nos. 2, 4 and 5.
“Yesterday, I was pretty concerned with the state of my game; I wasn’t playing well,” said Neale, who fired a first-round 72. “I was feeling a lot better about my game heading into this round and after five birdies, it settled things down a lot.”
Neale said making birdies in bunches has been a part of his game for a while, but that he’s been concentrating lately on avoiding the big numbers. He made just one bogey Wednesday and recorded impressive up-and-down pars at Nos. 8 and 18 to help secure a two-shot lead entering Thursday’s third round.
Born in South Africa, Neale and his family moved to California when he was 2 years old. The Trabuco Canyon, Calif., resident struck up a friendship with Connelly two years ago at the 2012 Junior Players. The two 17-year-olds have since committed to SMU and Neale has visited Connelly several times at Connelly’s home in Irving, Texas.
“We really just play more golf,” said Connelly, who will again host Neale for a few days after the Junior PGA.
Said Neale: “We might play a little more ping-pong since we’ve both played a lot of golf recently.”
Neale’s streakiness has been on display so far this summer. He tied for seventh at the Rolex Tournament of Champions and finished third at the Callaway Junior World Championships. But last week at the U.S. Junior Amateur, he followed a first-round 70 with a second-round 82 to miss the match-play cut.
“That was brutal,” Neale said. “Nice solid start, but then the next day I kind of got in panic mode from the beginning. I started off with four bogeys in my first five (holes) and just couldn’t get it going the rest of the day, kept missing fairways which you couldn’t do there, and next thing you know I’m at 82.”
Neale didn’t have the best of practice rounds last Saturday, either. He played the front nine at Miramont in what he called “a miserable 6 over,” but then made five birdies on the back nine.
“That kind of defines streaky,” Neale said.
While Neale showcased his ability to go low Wednesday, he also showed he can remain calm. He said he wasn’t nervous after his hot start and that he even put things on “cruise control” toward the end of his round.
“I could tell this round was kind of coming,” Neale said. “I’ve been playing well lately and just not getting the results. It feels good to pull it off today and hopefully I can keep it up.”
Now, the challenge will be avoiding a letdown and holding off some stiff competition. Sam Burns (4 under) and Brad Dalke (3 under) will play in Thursday’s final boys group with Neale while Connelly is tied for fifth.
Even though Neale has never won a tournament this big, if he’s one the good side of streaky like he was Wednesday for the next two rounds, he’ll be tough to beat.