Haight (72) takes control at challenging Alvamar
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Approaching the Alvamar gantlet Tuesday afternoon, Willie Hammond seemed to have the first day of the AJGA Under Armour/Gary Woodland Championship in his control. Hammond was 2 under through 12 holes at Alvamar Country Club’s Championship Course, and had the rare red number beside his name.
This course’s best protection is in its closing holes, however, and Hammond got caught in their teeth. The 17-year-old from Southlake, Texas, bogeyed Nos. 13 and 15 before making double bogey at No. 16. A pair of closing three-putt bogeys pushed Hammond to 4-over 76, four shots back of eventual leader Caleb Haight’s even-par 72. Hammond fell into a tie for 15th, behind a crowd of players between himself and Haight.
“The back nine is really difficult because the wind sort of swirls,” Hammond said.
The Under Armour/Woodland marks Hammond’s first appearance in an AJGA event. He tried to qualify twice before, but was unsuccessful.
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One thing Hammond noticed Tuesday is the difference in pace of play between tournaments at home in Texas and the AJGA tournament at Alvamar. Hammond found it easier to concentrate Tuesday as his threesome finished the round in just over four hours.
“You don’t want to rush things, but it makes you stay on top of your game, make sure you’re taking your time,” Hammond said.
Hammond chose Alvamar for his first AJGA start in part because he had heard good things about the course. Next week, Hammond plans to play the KPMG Stacy Lewis Junior Open, an AJGA event in Rogers, Ark.
For this week, Lawrence was a relatively short drive north from Southlake, where Hammond attends Southlake Carroll, a high-school golf powerhouse. The Dragons’ A team finished second at the Texas State High School 5A championship this spring. Hammond helped guide the B squad to fourth.
“We have a really stacked team,” Hammond said. Those have been beneficial conditions under which to learn the game.
As for leader Haight, conditions are a little different at home in Wichita, Kan. Haight, 18, recently completed his senior year of high school at Wichita Heights and is headed to the University of Nebraska at Omaha in the fall to play collegiate golf. Windy conditions Tuesday didn’t faze Haight one bit, even though his ballstriking was a little shaky throughout the day. Haight hit only four greens but figures he got up and down for par more than 10 times. He had one birdie and one bogey.
“Usually that’s not my best area,” Haight said of his short game.
Recently, however, Haight’s putting stroke underwent a near-total renovation. He changed his stance to become more upright and also changed the way his hands move through the stroke. It’s what he’s concentrating on the most as he prepares to become a college golfer, but there’s little else in the way of game improvement on his mind – after Tuesday’s round, it’s understandable.
“Right now, my game is at a place where I’m really content,” Haight said.
To cap his high-school season, Haight finished second at the Kansas State High School 5A Championship. He is the rare player who was able to play two spring sports throughout his high-school career – golf and baseball. Haight played shortstop and was the leadoff hitter for Wichita Heights.
Haight’s path has shades of tournament namesake Woodland’s junior-golf career. As the story goes, Woodland initially passed over a University of Kansas golf scholarship to play basketball at Washburn University. After his freshman year, he left basketball to play golf at Kansas. Reminded of Woodland’s story and subsequent PGA Tour success, Haight smiled at the thought of following in those footsteps.
“I hope so,” he simply said.