Jack Turner and Holden Webb made things happen in the middle of their opening rounds to share the lead in the 71st annual Press Thornton Future Masters on Thursday.
Both players shot 5-under-par 65s and sat atop a crowded leaderboard after the morning wave. Just one shot back after rounds of 66 were Graham Hodges, Ian Meyer and Brantley Scott of Rehobeth.
The afternoon groups kept firing at their scores, a couple with some memorable highlights. Future Masters veteran Ryan Eshleman shot a front-nine 30, Ryan Hart made his first hole-in-one, and Maxwell Ford staged a late charge with three birdies on his final three holes — but all three golfers closed out their opening rounds with a 66.
Turner of Orlando, Fla., didn’t panic when he turned with an even-par 35 after the front side. This is third time competing at the Dothan Country Club course and he knows the front side “is really tough and challenging.”
“Turning at even was big for me and I knew going to the back I could make a few birdies. I got the momentum right away and kept it going,” said Turner, who shot a 30 on the back. “I made a 20-footer for birdie on 10, the next two holes stuck it to three feet and made those.”
Three more birdies on 14, 15 and 17 took him to six under, but he bogeyed 18 when he couldn’t convert a long chip across the green to a diabolical hole location.
“With the pin back right, it was coming straight down the slope and made it really tough to get up and down,” Turner said.
Webb of Shreveport, La., also surged in the middle of his round. He birdied No. 9, chipped in for eagle on No. 10 and, after a par, drained a 10-foot birdie putt on No. 12.
“It was really good. I kept it in front of me all day,” Webb said. “Got off to a pretty solid start on the front (33) and tried to keep it going.”
His birdie on No. 9 came after an approach shot to three feet. The chip-in for eagle was a long runner from in front of the green to a back right pin location.
His front nine started with an adventure. He drove onto the driving range, got a free drop, put his approach shot short and left of the first green. He made a clutch 15-foot par putt to start his round. He later added a birdie on No. 16 and a bogey on No. 17 to complete his 5-under-par 65.
It was another shot back to the 66s by Hodges of Mountain Brook, Meyer of Deephaven, Minn., and Rehobeth’s Scott.
Meyer went out in the first group of the day, starting at 6:30 a.m. off the first tee. He shot a 32 on the front — helped by a hot putter early — and a 34 on the back.
“It was good to get off early and get off to a hot start there and avoid the heat, obviously,” Meyer said. “I probably made 100 feet of putts in the first three holes.”
He started his round with birdies on the first three holes.
“The first hole I made a 40-footer down the hill. Two was probably 25, 30 feet pin high. Three was like, pin high, but about 30 feet right and I made that,” Meyer said. “I finally woke up and the putter got a little colder.”
Hodges, 15, will be a sophomore at Mountain Brook High School this fall. He started his round on the back nine and birdied 11, 12 and 13 — then said he missed his shortest birdie putt all day, from 2½ feet, at No. 14. He added another birdie at No. 16.
One of his few mistakes came when he went in the trees right at No. 18 and took a double bogey. He got a shot back with a birdie at No. 1.
“You want to hit in the fairways. The rough is pretty thick here,” Hodges said.
No. 18 also dinged Scott, who made seven birdies and three bogeys. Scott drove into the left rough and couldn’t get up and down for par on the final hole.
“It’s a tough pin. It’s very tucked,” Scott said. “The green is superfast on that side.”
Still, he was proud of the front-nine 32.
“That was the fun part,” Scott said as a smile spread across his face.
Four golfers shot 66 in the afternoon — Andrew Spaulding of Spring, Texas, who played in the final group of the day, Auburn signee Eshleman of Vestavia Hills, who has played in every Future Masters since he was 10, last year’s tournament runner-up Ford of Peachtree Corners, Ga., and Hart of Naples, Fla., whose hole-in-one was hardly his only great shot of the day.
Hart’s ace came at the 158-yard No. 11 with the pin in the middle left.
“I hit 9-iron, just a baby draw, right at the hole the whole time,” Hart said. “I saw it land, but I didn’t see it disappear. Then I heard people screaming and I was like, ‘It went in! Yeah!’
“It’s my first one, and it was pretty cool to have it here.”
Hart started the back nine birdie, ace, birdie, par and birdie. Then a 40-45-minute rain delayed cooled him off just a bit.
Eshleman knew a low score was possible just a few holes into the round. He grinded out pars on his first two holes, then drained consecutive 30-foot birdie putts on Nos. 3 and 4.
“I had four putts through four holes, so I knew my putter was working for me,” the Auburn signee said. “From No. 5 on, I started hitting my lines. Chipped in on 6, birdied 7, parred 8 and birdied 9 with a tough putt.”
He gave himself plenty of chances on the back, too, but a couple good putts didn’t fall. He had bogeys on Nos. 13 and 15.
“It’s a good start. I’m very pleased,” Eshleman said.
Ford saved his best for last to salvage his 66. After starting on the back nine, he closed his opening round with birdies on Nos. 7, 8 and 9. His irons were dialed in. His approach left him a foot from the hole on No. 7, four feet away on No. 8 and seven feet on No. 9.
“I put myself in good position coming in,” Ford said. “I didn’t play that great, really, but I got a lot out of it.”
“I think I missed one or two greens today,” Spaulding said. “I bogeyed the first hole — my only bogey. I shot 34 on the front, 32 on the back. I birdied 17 and 18. I was all around the hole all day. I was just trying to get them to drop.”
Three other golfers started their tournament with 3-under-par 67s — Robert Davidson of Trussville, Carter Loflin of Duluth, Ga., and Jay Nimmo of Benton, Ky.
In all, 30 players broke par in the opening round of the 54-hole tournament. The field will be cut to the low 104 and ties after Friday’s second round.
None of them were more patient than Drew Miller. Miller wasn’t in the field coming into the tournament.
He left his Tallahassee home at 3:45 a.m. Thursday morning and drove to Dothan, hoping one of the other golfers failed to show up for his tee time.
For much of the day, he wondered, “What am I doing out here?”
“At the beginning, I was pretty optimistic,” Miller said. “When it got to the end of the first (morning) wave I was like, ‘I’m not going to get to play.’ Then the second-to-last tee time, the 1:57 p.m. tee time, I heard the starter call out, ‘Drew Miller, report to the tee box.’
“I grabbed my clubs and ran off to the tee box. I hadn’t hit a ball since yesterday.”
He sliced his first shot out of bounds. Scrambled out a double bogey and parred the next seven holes. But a rain delay when he was 3-over was costly.
“I’ve got a back problem. I went and sat in my car for an hour — and sitting really kills my back,” He said. “It went downhill from there.”
He finished with a first-round 81, but quickly added, “That’s beside the point. I had a good time. I enjoyed the group of guys I played with. I enjoyed it.”