The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

June 14, 2012

Rising Tide

Alabama teammates share Amateur lead

Mike Mastovich

JOHNSTOWN — Roll Tide?

The University of Alabama battle cry seems more appropriate on a cool autumn afternoon rather than on a hot day in June.

But the Crimson Tide indeed rolled during the first round of the 59th Sunnehanna Amateur Tournament for Champions.

Alabama teammates Justin Thomas and Bobby Wyatt shared the Amateur lead after each shot a 5-under-par 65 on Thursday at the par-70 Sunnehanna Country Club course.

“We have five people here and we’re great friends,” said Wyatt of a contingent representing the Tide's Southeastern Conference champion and NCAA Division I runner-up golf squad at Sunnehanna. “We spend a lot of time together. We’re fortunate enough that we really enjoy each other. They’re my best friends and I enjoy seeing them play well.”

Thomas was the SEC Player of the Year and a 2012 Jones Cup champion. Wyatt was a first-team SEC pick, and Cory Whitsett, who shot a 2-under on Thursday, was a second-team SEC selection from Alabama. Tom Lovelady and Trey Mullinax were other University of Alabama players who made the trip North.

“I just kind of got hot in the middle of my round,” Goshen, Ky., native Thomas said. “I birdied 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12. That got me to 6 (under). I just was trying to play really smart because out here you could play well but if you’re above the hole it’s easy to 3-putt and make bogeys real fast.

“I just felt like I played solid. I made a couple long putts on the front and got fortunate with that. I just tried to stay patient.”

Thomas made a 30-foot birdie putt on the par-4 No. 2. He was good from about 40 feet on par-4 No. 8. But he credited his par-saving 25-foot putt on No. 4 with building his confidence.

“That was huge,” Thomas said. “I really didn’t want to make that bogey. That got me going. It kept me at 1-under and I tried to keep going from there.”

Wyatt, a Mobile, Ala., native, started strong, hit a bump on the third hole and was steady through the rest of the front nine. He gradually built momentum on the back.

“I birdied the first, and bogeyed 3,” Wyatt said.

“I hung in there and made all pars until 9. I birdied 9, 11, 12, eagled 15 and got it rolling. I bogeyed 17 and bogeyed the last hole.”

His eagle helped him overcome the strokes he lost on the last two holes.

“I hit a really good drive there and was able to get there in two,” Wyatt said of the eagle on the 595-yard, par-5 No. 15. “I was fortunate my 3-wood ended up within 10 feet and I was able to coax that one home.”

Texas A&M's Johannes Veerman and University of California’s Michael Kim each shot 4-under 66 to tie for third.

“The front nine, I just got off to a good start,” Kim said. “I birdied 1, parred 2 and birdied 3. The putter felt really good. I just tried to give myself as many chances as I could. I hit nine greens on the front and rolled a few putts.”

Veerman credited an Aggies teammate, Jordan Russell, who tied for fourth in the 2011 Sunnehanna Amateur and tied for third in 2010. Even though Russell wasn’t in this year’s field, he had an impact.

“I had a teammate who played in this last year and he gave me great advice and I followed it,” Veerman said. “I also struck it really well. Being in the fairway every hole was really helpful. My caddy (Westmont Hilltop freshman Greg Heider), he’s young but he knows a lot about the course, and he told me where to hit it.

“I was steady throughout and it just felt pretty good.”

Donald Constable of Deephaven, Minn.; Nicholas Reach of Moscow, Pa.; and Sebastian Vazquez of Mexico City each shot 3-under to tie for fifth.

John Catlin of Carmichael, Calif.; Denny McCarthy of Rockville, Md.; Tyler McCumber of Ponte Verda, Fla.; Mike Miller of Brewster, N.Y.; and Whitsett each were 2-under and tied for eighth.

Six golfers shot 1-under to tie for 13th.

Sunnehanna Country Club champion Derek Hayes shot 6-over 76, and Greater Johnstown champion Aaron Patalune finished at 11-over 81.

Today’s second round begins at 8 a.m. The Amateur is free and open to the public.