BENTON TOWNSHIP — Hidetoshi Yoshihara moved to the top of the Western Amateur leaderboard with a great round of golf Tuesday morning. An afternoon wind helped him stay there.
Yoshihara shot a 6-under-par 64 to be the first-round leader as the tournament returned to its longtime home at the Point O’ Woods Golf & Country Club for the first time since 2008.
“I heard so many good things about this tournament,” said Yoshihara, who is originally from Japan and now plays golf at UCLA. “I was looking forward to it. I think the competition is just as good as all the college tournaments that we play or even better, because all the international kids are out here playing as well.”
Twelve of the top 17 players on the leaderboard played in the morning, as increased wind in the afternoon presented a challenge. It didn’t slow down James Nicholas too much, as the Yale golfer was one of three players tied with a 5-under 65, along with Everton Hawkins (Northwestern) and Matthew McCarty (Santa Clara).
“I was out here early about 9:30 and there was nothing (as far as wind),” Nicholas said. “It felt like it was going to be an easy day, and then the wind started picking up. It made you think about it. It wasn’t too bad, because it was a lot of straight into it or straight down. Not a lot of crosswinds, which was nice. It definitely affected the ball.”
Yoshihara and Nicholas both played bogey-free rounds, but did it in different ways. Yoshihara kept his ball in the fairway and out of trouble.
The highlight of his round was a 50-foot birdie putt on No. 17, the eighth hole he played as he started on the back nine.
“I think I didn’t make that many mistakes out there, and that was very important in the score,” Yoshihara said. “Just keep giving yourself chances and make putts when you need to.”
Nicholas, on the other hand, hit just six fairways, but was able to save par from difficult spots.
“I would say my ability to scramble today was the best part of my game,” Nicholas said. “I almost pitched in twice, but cozied right up there for tap-in pars.”
The fast starts don’t mean too much in the Western Amateur format. The top 16 players after four rounds of stroke play advance to a single-elimination match play tournament on Friday and Saturday.
“There’s so many rounds ahead of us,” Yoshihara said. “I don’t want to get ahead of myself and think what’s going to happen in the future. Just play every day, focus every shot and see how it goes from there.”
Four players were tied for fifth at 4-under, including Chun An-Yu of Arizona State. The Taiwanese golfer is ranked No. 1 in the Scratch Players World Amateur Ranking.
Defending champion Cole Hammer of Texas, ranked No. 2, struggled to a 2-over 72.
St. Joseph graduate Matt Zerbel, the Point O’ Woods club champion, also shot a 72.
“This is probably the most calm I’ve felt in a tournament, to be honest,” Zerbel said. “It’s kind of weird, because it’s the biggest thing I’ve ever played in. I’ve played out here so many times, it’s almost like home. It’s really calming to have that.”
Zerbel had an up-and-down round. He had two double bogeys, but also made an eagle on the par-5 No. 13 hole, his fourth hole of the day.
“I hit a decent drive down there, and I had 250 (yards) to the flag,” Zerbel said. “I’ve practiced that shot before, going for it in two. I told my caddie I’m going for it, and then I just took the 3-wood, went up and ripped it. It was on a great line. I think I hit like 35, 40 feet past the hole on the green, so it was a great shot.”
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