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  • Trace, Deneen share first-round lead at Jennings Mill

  • Travis Trace had no such escapades, with his seven birdies and 11 pars. All of his birdie putts were inside 15 feet.
    Travis Trace had no such escapades, with his seven birdies and 11 pars. All of his birdie putts were inside 15 feet.
  • In This Article
  • WATKINSVILLE, Georgia—Travis Trace has enjoyed a couple of firsts in the last four days. Most importantly, his 7-under 65 gave him a share of the first-round lead with Morgan Deneen at the Forme Tour’s inaugural tournament, the L&J Golf Championship at Jennings Mill Country Club. Leading a PGA TOUR-affiliated tournament is something Trace had never done before. More firsts: Sunday, Trace had an awfully good time attending his maiden Major League Baseball game, watching the St. Louis Cardinals defeat the Braves, 9-1, up the road in Atlanta.

    After getting the “vacation” portion of his trip out of the way early, with a little Father’s Day baseball, Trace got down to business Wednesday morning, playing bogey-free golf, shooting 2-under on his first nine holes and then making five birdies in his final nine holes. Nearly eight hours later, he had company at the top of the leaderboard.

    Deneen played in the last grouping of the day on his way to his 65, had something of an adventure even getting into this event. With no Forme Tour membership, Deneen earned a spot in this tournament’s qualifier last week as an alternate, he shot a 65 and emerged with an invite after surviving a six-players-for-five-spots playoff.

    MorganDeneen
    Morgan Deneen played in the last grouping of the day on his way to his 65.

    With at least somewhere to play, even if it’s only one tournament, Deneen made the most of his opportunity, playing Jennings Mill’s back nine first and turning in 4-under after four birdies. He made four birdies on his final nine, with a bogey on No. 7, and was surprised to learn he shared the lead with Trace.

    “The back nine was the side I was most familiar with in my practice round. I think once you get through the first four (holes), your birdie opportunities really start to come,” said Deneen. “When I turned onto the front, it was a lot of target golf, a lot of getting the ball in the right position. I was able to do that early, and I had some really good up and downs coming in.”

    Most notably was No. 6, his 15th hole. After thinking he had lost his drive in the junk to the right, he found his ball in play, hit his approach to the back of the green and got up and down from there for par. He gave one back on the next hole but had a two-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th after he stiffed his approach.

    Trace had no such escapades, with his seven birdies and 11 pars. All of his birdie putts were inside 15 feet, and Trace almost had an eagle on No. 2, his approach hitting the lip of the cup and spinning back six feet. From there he cashed in.

    “I was staying patient. If you’re in the wrong spots on some of these greens, it’s really hard to make putts,” said Trace, who reiterated what Deneen noted. “I can hit more drivers on the front nine and have a few more wedges. On the back nine, you’re trying to stay away from stupid mistakes, playing to the middle of the green and trying to stay below the hole.”

    Among the trio a stroke off the lead, is Austin Morrison. He joins Trevor Werbylo and Samuel Saunders in a tie for third.

    Morrison began his Forme Tour career slowly but turned it on right before making the turn to his final nine of the day, making birdies on eight of his final 11 holes. Yes, there was definitely a theme, with the front nine yielding a stroke average of 35.609 vs. the back’s 36.449.

    “I’m still in a little bit of shock,” he said after his 66 that included a bogey on his final hole of the day. “I missed a four-footer on eight, so it could have easily been nine(-under). I was hitting it really good all day, and I finally felt something comfortable with the putter down the stretch and shot a good round.”

    Did you know Trevor Werbylo has made two double eagles in his career? As a freshman at the University of Arizona, playing in the Arizona Intercollegiate at the Omni Tucson National Resort, Werbylo, in only his fourth college tournament, knocked in from the fairway his pitching-wedge approach from the fairway for a 2 in the event. In his debut as a professional Wednesday at Jennings Mill Country Club, Werbylo holed his second-shot approach on the par-5 seventh with a 7-iron from “180ish yards,” giving him two double eagles on his resume.

    Key Information

    • The field in this 72-hole event will cut to the low 60 and ties following Thursday’s second round.

    • Alex Smalley, who shot a 60 during the Callaway Gardens LOCALiQ Series tournament a year ago down the road in Pine Mountain, Georgia, made a name for himself Wednesday when he made a hole-in-one on the par-3 fourth hole. Smalley had five birdies and two bogeys to go with his eagle, and he’s at 5-under and tied for sixth with Cooper Musselman.

    • LOCALiQ Series Player of the Year Bryson Nimmer made the first birdie in Forme Tour history when birdied the first hole. Nimmer teed off on No. 1 at 7:15 a.m., hitting the Tour’s inaugural tee shot. On the back nine, Zane Thomas was first off, also at 7:15. He made the Tour’s first eagle, making a 3 at the par-5 10th. Nimmer is tied for 51st, while Thomas is tied for eighth.

    • Hagen Fell was an alternate in the field when the week began. Tuesday at 10 a.m., PDT he was giving a lesson at La Jolla Country Club outside San Diego when he received a call from the Tour informing him he was in the field. Exactly two hours and 30 minutes later, Fell was at San Diego International Airport getting on a flight for Georgia. After an all-day flight, Fell made it to his hotel in Athens at 1 a.m. EDT. He awoke Wednesday morning, teeing off at 9:15 without ever having seen the course. Fell was 2-under through 14 holes after making a birdie at No. 5. He struggled coming in, with back-to-back double bogeys on Nos. 6 and 7 to shoot a 2-over 74.

    • A week after making the cut at the U.S. Open and tying for 68th, Kyle Westmoreland is playing at Jennings Mill and acquitting himself well through 18 holes. The United States Air Force Academy graduate and veteran shot a 4-under 68 Wednesday, with six birdies and two bogeys. Westmoreland did most of his damage to par on holes 10-15, where he made four of his six birdies (Nos. 10, 11, 13 and 15). He is tied for eighth with 15 others.

    • Two other players who saw action in the U.S. Open last week are in this week’s field. Tyler Strafaci is tied for 111th after opening with a 2-over 74. Luis Gagne is a stroke behind Strafaci. He’s tied for 127th. Both players missed the cut last week at Torrey Pines Golf Course.

    • Samuel Saunders got to 6-under through 13 holes but fell back with a double bogey-6 at the par-4 14th. The former New Mexico Lobo recovered nicely after that, with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 15 and 16 before parring in for his 6-under 66.

    • On his only bogey of the day, Morgan Deneen had a flier lie for his approach shot from the rough on No. 7. “I really did not feel like hitting a gap wedge 160 (yards), especially over water. So I tried to hit a soft 9, I hit a cut and it came out super hot and jumpy. It landed on the back (of the green) and bounced over into about six inches in front of straw that was up to my chest,” he said.

    • Cooper Musselman had an interesting three-hole stretch on his back nine. For his other 15 holes, he made nothing but birdies (five) and pars (eight). On No. 11, he had an eagle at the par-5 and then made consecutive bogeys starting at No. 12. Musselman is tied for sixth, at 5-under.

    • The toughest hole in the opening round was the par-4 13th. Its stroke average was 4.442, yielding just about as many double bogeys (15) as birdies (16). The easiest hole was No. 11. The par-5 played to an average 4.321, with 15 of the day’s 28 eagles occurring there.

    • Of the eight 18-hole qualifiers who earned entry into this week’s field, Morgan Deneen clearly had the best day, grabbing a tie for the lead through the first day. The only other player from the eight to end the day inside the top 10 was Jimmy Beck. With his wife, Hannah, serving as his caddie, Beck, a Kennesaw State University graduate, is tied for eighth with 15 other players after a 4-under 68.

    Quotable

    “It was pretty solid all around. I took the mentality of staying patient all day, and the greens are wicked if you get in the wrong spots.” –Travis Trace

    “I’ve been working hard on the game, getting ready for the season. I’ve been looking forward to it a lot. It’s exciting to be back and fun to get off to a good start.” –Travis Trace

    “It’s been tough without a Tour to play on for the last year, pretty much. Sometimes you play a tournament and then go three weeks without a tournament. Then you’re going to a Monday qualifier, playing one round and going to the next.” –Travis Trace on the last year-plus

    “It’s in phenomenal shape. I heard there was a pretty bad storm here. They did a fantastic job getting the course ready for us. The greens are almost perfect and rolling pretty fast.” –Travis Trace

    “My first one was in college. It didn’t totally feel like a double eagle. It was a dogleg, and it wasn’t very long. I hit a drive and had only like a little wedge in. I actually spun that one back in, so it didn’t feel like a double eagle and this one definitely felt like one. To have two and to have them both come in competition is pretty cool.” –Trevor Werbylo on his double-eagle “career”

    “My only bogey of the day was the best putt I hit.” –Morgan Deneen, after missing the green at No. 7, pitching out but unable to sink his par effort

    “Something looking back on you can’t really be too mad because putts went in, and the one I hit the best didn’t. That’s just golf. That’s the way the cookie crumbles. –Morgan Deneen

    “On my first six holes, of the four greens I hit, I had looks inside 10 feet, could have made all of them and only made one.” –Austin Morrison

    “I just felt like if I kept hitting greens, eventually they would go in—and I got a bunch of them to go in.” –Austin Morrison

    “I was very happy with how things went. I got a nice chip-in on No. 9, and I had some putts fall that I was just trying to cozy up. It was one of those days when things were going my way.” –Morgan Deneen

    “I need to figure out the driver a little bit, get the ball in play a little more so that way I have more opportunities coming, especially [Thursday].” –Morgan Deneen

    First-Round Weather: Cloudy and pleasant in the morning. Sun came out in the afternoon, with the temperature reaching 84. Wind E at 4-6 mph.