Becker posts easy 62 for Northeast Am lead

Rafael Becker took the first-round lead at the Northeast Amateur.

First-round scores

RUMFORD, R.I. – By today’s standards, Wannamoisett Country Club would be considered a short golf course. It measures just more than 6,700 yards and plays to something also nearly unheard of in this day and age: a par 69.

Don’t let the numbers fool you, however. The Donald Ross design can be -- and usually is -- a demanding and punishing test of golf, especially if you’re playing it for the first time.

Of course, if you were watching Rafael Becker during Wednesday’s opening round of the 52nd Northeast Amateur Invitational, words like punishing, demanding, frightening and brutal didn’t apply. That’s because Becker, who recently finished his four years of college-golf eligibility at Wichita State, was nearly flawless as he fired a 7-under 62.

That was one shot off the tournament-record 61 by Luke Guthrie in 2001 and matched Michael Harris’ second-round 62 in 1998 that helped him to a one-shot victory over Joel Kribel.

Becker’s 62 gave the 6-foot-3-inch Brazilian a four-shot lead over Bo Andrews, Bobby Leopold, Cory Whitsett and Cameron Wilson. Max Homa, the reigning NCAA champion, and Clancy Waugh are in with 2-under 67 while seven players are tied for eighth at 68.

Michael Kim, a junior at California and recent winner of the Haskins and Nicklaus awards, shot 4-over 73 and is tied for 54th. Last week, Kim was low amateur at the U.S. Open, tying for 17th.

Becker made things look like a walk in the park on this warm, sunny Wednesday.

“I just tried to think of the shot at hand,” said Becker, who is taking his final class this summer to earn his degree. “I didn’t do a good job of keeping in the present last week at the Sunnehanna Amateur (where he tied for 15th), but was able to do that today.”

Becker’s round consisted of eight birdies and a lone bogey.

Starting on the back nine, the 2011 and ’12 Brazilian Amateur champion birdied Nos. 10, 14, 15 and 17 to turn in 31. He then birdied the first three holes on the front side, considered by some to be three of the course’s toughest holes, and then got it to 8 under with a birdie at No. 5. His lone hiccup was a bogey at the sixth.

Becker said his “key shot” came at No. 1 when he hit his approach to within 8 feet and his “best putt” of the day came at the par-3 third when he sank a 25-footer from the back of the green.

When asked if stronger afternoon winds had an effect on his game, the reigning Missouri Valley Conference champion just smiled and said, “I’ve spent four years in Kansas so I think I’m kind of used to playing in the wind.”

Becker’s pre-tournament taste of Wannamoisett was disrupted by weather. He managed just nine holes of practice on Monday and 12 on Tuesday.

“I liked what I was able to see and felt comfortable out here,” said Becker, who earlier this year tied for 26th at the Web.com Tour’s Brazil Classic. “Basically I just tried to play safe all day long. Just try not to force any big mistakes.”

It was also a pretty good start for Leopold, one of the tournament’s local favorites. The native of nearby Cranston, R.I., came in with his 3-under 66.

Leopold was born in Albany, N.Y., but moved to England with his family when he was just more than a year old. He returned to the U.S. to attend college at Rollins in Winter Park, Fla., and has been living in Rhode Island the past sixth years, working as a property and casualty insurance agent for his father-in-law, Scott Cooke, who is his caddy this week.

Leopold had to skip last year’s Northeast Amateur to attend a wedding but the previous year tied for 22nd. That year, he made bogey at the par-4 fifth hole in each of his four rounds.

He made up for that Wednesday when he holed his pitching wedge shot from 100 yards out for an eagle.

“That really got me going,” said Leopold, 28, and the only mid-amateur to advanced to the Sweet 16 of the U.S. Amateur each of the past two years. “I got a little revenge on that hole.”

He followed with birdies at Nos. 7 and 8 to turn in 4 under, but made bogey at 14, added another birdie at 15 and then made bogey at 16.

“I’ve been playing well the last few weeks and I really like this golf course,” said Leopold, the 2009 and ’11 Rhode Island Player of the Year. “It really sets up nice for me. The greens are fast and pure and I really like that.”

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