Pacific's Sugimoto fires 63 to take Public Links lead

Eric Sugimoto, a junior at Pacific, posted a 7-under 63 on Monday to take the lead at the U.S. Amateur Public Links in Virginia.

LORTON, Va. -- Eric Sugimoto handled the mid-90 afternoon temperatures and high humidity and came in with one of the day’s rare bogey-free rounds while chalking up seven birdies for a 7-under 63 to take the lead after the opening round of stroke play in the 88th U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship at Laurel Hill Golf Club on Monday.

Sugimoto’s round tied for the lowest in APL stroke-play qualifying history, matching the 63 shot by Danny Green in the first round in 2004 in Minnesota. It also was a Laurel Hill course record from the championship tees.

Sugimoto, whose previous low round of 65 came last May at Palouse Ridge GC at the NCAA regional in Pullman, Wash., takes a two-shot lead into Tuesday’s second round of qualifying when the 64-player match-play field will be determined.

Coming in with 5-under 65s were Canada’s Garrett Rank, runner-up at last year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur, and Ian Davis, a senior at Oklahoma State. Another shot behind at 66 was Sam Saunders, while James Erkenbeck and Addison Lambeth, a policeman in the United States Marine Corps, had 67s.

“It was definitely humid out there,” said Sugimoto, a junior at the University of Pacific. “It’s something I’m not used to growing up in San Diego. And this is only the third time I’ve played on the East Coast.

“But I guess when you shoot 63 the heat doesn’t bother you as much like it might if you were shooting a high number."

Starting on the back nine, Sugimoto, who tied for first place earlier this year at the Big West Conference Championship, made birdie at No. 10, then added four more at Nos. 12, 15, 16 and 18 in making the turn at 5-under 30. He added yet another at No. 3 and closed out his stellar round with one at the par-5 ninth.

“I’ve been hitting it good for a while and it was just a matter of making my putts,” said Sugimoto, a native of Japan, playing in his first USGA championship. “Today I really had my putter going and that was the difference.”

Sugimoto said the round is a real confidence booster and it’s nice “to shoot that kind of score on a big stage.

“It was nice to have everything just click for me today,” he added.

Rank, 25, and a referee in the Ontario Hockey League, had eight pars and one birdie on his first nine (back), then kicked it in gear with five birdies on the front side, including an 8-iron shot to 3 feet on the 186-yard, par-3 fourth. His lone bogey came at the fifth hole.

“I drove it well, hit a bunch of greens and made a few 15-footers,” said Rank. “It wasn’t anything spectacular, but I gave myself a lot of chances out there. No big mistakes and that is key out here.”

Rank has had a decent summer, finishing second at last week’s Ontario Amateur and posting top 20s at the Northeast Amateur and Sahalee Players Championship. He plans to play again in the U.S. Mid-Amateur in October in hopes of avenging his 1-down loss to Nathan Smith last year at Conway Farms Golf Club just outside Chicago.

He will try to feed on his success he had during that long week at that mid-am this week at the APL.

“Now I know what it takes to play eight rounds in six days,” Rank said. “I think I can use that to my advantage."

Davis, who had three top 10s along with his tie for first at the Royal Oaks Collegiate in 11 starts for the Cowboys last season, overcame a bogey on his opening hole with six birdies. He birdied Nos. 3 and 9 and followed with the same at 13, 14, 16 and 18.

AGE IS NOTHING BUT A NUMBER: The youngest player in the starting field of 156 at this year’s APL is Trent Wallace, 16, of Joliet, Ill. The oldest is Greg Condon, 51, of Monte Vista, Colo., who edged out Sean Knapp of Oakmont, Pa., by four months.

WHERE DID THEY COME FROM? Players from 36 different states -- and three countries -- made up this year’s APL field. Among the U.S., California led the way with 20 participants, followed by Florida with 12, Texas with 11, Arizona with eight and Hawaii and Ohio with seven each.

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