Roberto Castro, Jason Kokrak and James Hahn
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
LA QUINTA, Calif. -- The youth movement continued on Thursday during the opening round of the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation as one PGA TOUR rookie and two in their sophomore seasons claimed shares of the lead at 9 under.
James Hahn, who is playing in just his third TOUR event, fired his 63 on the Palmer Course at PGA West, which is generally considered the most challenging of the three courses used in the rotation. Roberto Castro's came on the Nicklaus course while Jason Kokrak shot 9 under at La Quinta.
Russell Henley, the rookie who won last week's Sony Open in Hawaii, showed no signs of slowing down, either, as he heads a group of four players at 8 under. He's tied with Greg Chalmers, Doug Labelle and Aaron Baddeley, who finished birdie-eagle on the Palmer course.
"I'm feeling very confident," said Henley, who set the tone when he hit the pin for eagle on the first hole. "I definitely wasn't going to be upset either way. I feel like of how my score went, I think that's the last thing I want to do is waste any energy and be emotional right now. I think I got to conserve all my emotions and my energy as much as I can so I can play another full golf tournament."
Henley's fellow rookie, Hahn, blistered the front nine of the Palmer Course with a 30 on the way to his 63. He chipped in twice for birdies -- the first time he'd holed two like that since he was 9 years old.
"For me it was just fairways, greens, and then trying to make a putt," Hahn said. "I think a lot of the times, we as professionals, try to take in too much information. That's not necessary, what it is to the water on the left or how far to carry this particular tree, and for me some of my best rounds have come from not even seeing golf course for the first time.
"So for me it's a little bit of an advantage, it gives me tunnel vision, I don't want to know or I don't have the information of how far the trouble is, I just know fairway, green, and try and make a putt."
Kokrak, who averaged 304 yards off the tee last season, played the par 5s at La Quinta in 4 under on the strength of two eagles. He birdied his first hole and then eagled his second to get things going and didn't drop a shot to par.
"The course over at La Quinta is in great shape," Kokrak said. "Greens are not overly fast, so you can be somewhat aggressive out there. The greens are holding. So you can be aggressive with the iron shots out there."
Castro and the other pro in his group, Daniel Summerhays, fed off each other in the first round. Summerhays is among a group of nine players who are tied at 65, two strokes off the pace.
"I got off to a good start, I birdied the first two with kick-ins, basically," Castro said. "And then just played well after that. Didn't make any long putts until the 18th hole I rolled in like a 40, 50 footer. .. So this tournament you kind of got to get it going and keep it going. We both got it going early, which was good."
Thursday was a perfect day for scoring in the desert and all but 22 of the 156 players in the field broke par. Among those with ground to make up are reigning U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, who opened with a 73; former PGA champ David Toms, who had a 75; and and defending champion Mark Wilson, who shot 77.
Two-time Humana champ Phil Mickelson shot even par 72 at La Quinta in his 2013 debut.
All three courses played well under par 72 with the Nicklaus course the easiest at 68.231. The Palmer course clocked in at 69.712 while La Quinta was 69.769.