Record-setting first round for USA

Washington's Chris Williams

Washington's Chris Williams

ANTALYA, Turkey – While the United States got its World Amateur Team Championship campaign off to the best possible start, making a start was all that counted for Kyrgyzstan.

Not surprisingly, the United States leads after round one of the 28th World Amateur Team Championship. Equally predictable? Kyrgyzstan is last out of the 72 nations. The Central Asian country is making its debut in the tournament.

The United States set a new record with a 131 total, 13-under-par. Mexico is second on 9-under, while France, Spain and The Netherlands are joint third on 7-under-par.

World No. 1 Chris Williams and Justin Thomas, world No. 3, spearheaded the U.S. charge. Williams posted an 8-under-par 64 at Cornelia Golf Club to go to the top of the individual leaderboard. Thomas returned a 67.

U.S. Amateur champion Steven Fox posted a 1-under-par 71, but his round didn’t matter considering only two scores count each day.

University of Alabama player Thomas relied on accuracy off the tee to post his score. “I was hitting it in the fairway and when you do that you’ve got a lot of scoreable clubs in your hands,” Thomas said.

Williams was also good off the tee, but his iron play in particular helped him to the two-shot individual lead he holds over Canada’s Mackenzie Hughes and Sebastian Vazquez of Mexico.

“I hit it close all day and made a lot of putts,” Williams said. The University of Washington player did just that, making seven birdies, an eagle, and dropping just the one shot. “Everything went right today.”

The same can’t be said for Kyrgyzstan. The trio from the Central Asian country struggled around Antalya’s PGA Sultan course. Playing alongside Serbia and Guam, they posted a 61-over-par 203, 72 shots behind the US.

Konstantin Surikov did his nation proud by breaking 100. He went round in 98, 27-over-par, with four pars on his card and lots of the dreaded “others.”

Quite how he managed it with his swing is another story. Forget about a flying right elbow, at the top of his swing Surikov’s right arm points straight up in the air. He makes Eamonn Darcy look orthodox.

Unfortunately, his teammates specialised in too many “others.” Alexy Konev scored 105, and claimed his own bit of national pride by making birdie on the 18th, the first Kyrgyzstan player to make birdie in the World Amateur Team Championship. Maybe Kyrgyzstan will name a national holiday after him as a result.

As for Azamat Maksytbekov, look away now. His card included a 12, a 10, a 9 and four 8s. He played the Sultan course in 128, 57-over-par. Hope he isn’t considering quitting his day job!

And lest you think I’m being critical, I’m not. One of the beauties of this championship is seeing countries with no history of golf teeing it up with established nations. After all, Kyrgyzstan has just one 9-hole golf course, the Maple Leaf Golf Country Club, a 9-hole course 20 minutes outside the capital Bishkek that was established by Canadian expats in 2002.

“It’s a big deal for countries like Kyrgyzstan to play in this,” said Nebojsa Lazic, team captain for Serbia. “We are only playing in this for the second time, and it’s important for us so imagine how important it is for them.”

U.S. teams have lifted the Eisenhower Trophy on 14 occasions. However, no U.S. team has won since 2004, when the U.S. won for the third time in a row. Williams, Thomas and Fox might make it number 15.

As for Kyrgyzstan, it might take another 15 World Amateur Team Championships before the country is even competitive –but only if youngsters don’t copy Surikov’s right arm position at the top of the backswing.

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