Current Owls Jimmy Beck and Kelby Burton, and alumni Matt Nagy and Jonathan Klotz were among a list of 18 under par following Thursday’s opening round of the Georgia Open.
Beck is tied with professional Jay McLuen atop the leaderboard at 6-under par 66, while Burton and Nagy were tied for eighth 70. Klotz wasn’t far behind, tied with five other golfers at 71.
“We play out there as much as we can,” Beck said. “We’re fortunate, too, to have some knowledge of the course. It helps to know where to hit the ball and where not to hit it. It’s little things like that that pay off in the end.”
Beck got off to a fast start with two birdies over his first five holes. He eagled the par-5 16th and made the turn at 4-under before collecting birdies at Nos. 5 and 9.
“Getting such a good start was big,” said Beck, who had the day’s only bogey-free round. “I didn’t expect to start that well because, when I golf, I’m usually going off of the first hole. Starting at 10 was weird because the tee shot is different than what I’m used to.
“But it’s exciting to be at the top of the leaderboard. It’s good to be in contention in any round, and I can only go up or down (today). I control my own destiny, and with this being a pro event, it’s even more exciting to be playing well. Hopefully, I’ll still be in contention Sunday.”
Sitting alone in third place at 68 was Kennesaw Mountain senior Jonathan Keppler, who was steady through his first nine holes, birdieing No. 8. And while Keppler’s back nine offered varying results, he managed to close his round with an eagle on the par-5 16th, birdie on 17 and par on 18.
“I played well all day,” said Keppler, whose father, Stephen, is a two-time Georgia Open champion. “I hit the ball well on the front nine, but didn’t make anything happen. My swing started going a little loose on 13, but I managed to get back to a good swing on those last three holes and got rewarded.”
Keppler, who led after the morning wave before getting passed by afternoon starters Beck and McLuen, said the eagle was his best shot of the day.
“I hit driver off the tee, and it was probably my best drive the whole day,” he said. “I landed about 180 yards from the pin, and used an 8-iron to about 12 feet away, and then made the putt.
“I’m really excited. I hope I can make a run up the leaderboard (today) and Saturday and be in contention Sunday.”
McLuen, a 34-year-old pro who made his first two career starts on the PGA Tour earlier this season, made a late surge toward the lead, sandwiching a bogey on 15 with a pair of birdies and an eagle on 16.
Keppler and McLuen are expected to have plenty of challengers on the list over the weekend. The field will be cut to the low 60 and ties after today’s round.
Chris Nicol, a North Cobb alum who now works at the Georgia Golf Center in Roswell, is part of the group in the red, shooting a first-round 71.
The 28-year-old Nicol had a roller-coaster round, with seven birdies to go with four bogeys and a double-bogey.
Also among the challengers is Kennesaw’s Daniel Kim, a neighbor of Keppler’s who was tied for 19th after a 72.
“Stephen’s one of my best friends,” said Kim, who played high school golf at Westminster. “We practice together every day and play on the same course at Marietta County Club. I knew he’d have the lead (after Thursday’s round). He’s been playing well, and the first name I looked for when I was done with my round was his.”
Kim got off to a slow start with a double-bogey and bogey on Nos. 3 and 4. He made the turn at 2-over, and rallied with an eagle at 16 and birdie at 17 before a bogey at 18 ended his round.
“I need to minimize mistakes, play smart and hit greens,” Kim said. “Try not to play too aggressively.”
Other locals near the cut line include former Kell golfers Zach Lindsey, tied for 41st after a 74, and Michael Hines, who was tied for 53rd at 75.
Acworth’s Rob French and Marietta’s Brian Dixon each shot 76, with former Harrison golfer Patrick Garrett and Marietta resident Ken Dixon at 77.
Rob Williams, the head pro at Pinetree, struggled to an 80. He was playing alongside former Atlanta Braves great John Smoltz, who also shot 80, and Pinetree member Brian Katrek (79).