By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
IRVING, Texas -- On Tuesday, Ryan Palmer flew to San Antonio to attend the burial services of his childhood friend, Clay Aderholt, who died last week in an auto accident. He flew back home to the Dallas-Fort Worth area that night, had dinner with his family and woke up Wednesday morning for his 4:30 a.m. wake-up call to make his pro-am tee time, emotionally drained and physically exhausted.
Despite still being "half-asleep" Thursday morning, Palmer hoped to find a sense of normalcy after the tragic turn of events.
Going low in the opening round of the HP Byron Nelson Championship certainly seems quite normal for Palmer now. His 5-under 65 on Thursday marks the third consecutive year the local resident has opened with a hot round at the TPC Four Seasons Resort. He opened with a 65 in 2011 and eventually finished second, losing in a playoff to Keegan Bradley. Last year, he opened with a 64 and finished tied for ninth.
That came on the heels of seven previous years in which Palmer struggled at this course, missing the cut six times.
"It's starting to look better to my eye," Palmer said. "Obviously, it didn't look good at all for seven years. Now I can say I love this golf course."
Thursday's round certainly bodes well for his chances the rest of the week. And if anybody could use an uplifting week, it would be Palmer, who was eating dinner after his opening round of THE PLAYERS Championship last week when he got the news of Aderholt's death, whom he's known since the school days growing up in Amarillo. For the rest of the week, he wore the initials of his close friend on his caps en route to finishing tied for fifth.
He gave his white cap to Clay's widow, Allison and signed it to their 4-year-old son Reid. He gave his black cap to Clay's dad. On Thursday, there were no initials.
"I think it was time for me to get back into the swing of things here," Palmer said. "But we will always remember him and maybe we can honor him even more on Sunday afternoon."
Indeed, nothing would be more appropriate than Palmer winning the HP Byron Nelson. And just like the previous two years, Palmer is letting his caddie James Edmondson select the clubs at this event. It's an unique approach but one that has worked here.
On Thursday, Edmondson wasn't even bothering to give Palmer the yardage to the pin.
"He would say, 'Hit this 8-iron' and I was like, 'How far is it?' Because that helps a little bit," Palmer said as he laughed. "... It seems to work here. It's kind of a strange thing."
It also helped that Palmer rolled in three putts from around 30 feet each. When he made his last one at the ninth hole -- his 18th of the day -- for birdie, Palmer turned to playing partner John Daly and apologized.
"I said, 'I'm sorry. I've got to giggle about that one' because he was banging right and left and I was just making any putt," Palmer said.
If he keeps it up for another three days, Palmer may very well find the winner's circle ... and provide a fitting tribute to Clay Aderholt.