Conners, Wetterich share lead after first round


Flossmoor, Illinois (Tuesday, June 17) – Flossmoor Country Club showed its teeth in the opening round of the 2014 Western Junior Championship, allowing only two players -- Kevin Conners and Daniel Wetterich -- to break par.

The duo, who both teed off in the afternoon, completed their rounds at 1-under-par 71, but the efforts weren’t identical.

Wetterich, of Cincinnati, Ohio, with a verbal commitment to play at Xavier University, was 3-under par through six holes, thanks to birdies on Nos. 1, 3 and 6.  The extraordinary start was simply the product of proper execution, he said.

“Landing it on the front edge of the green and rolling it up, that’s all it was,” Wetterich said. “My approaches to the green were great; I was knocking them within 10-15 feet and rolling in the putts.”

Wetterich made three bogeys on Nos. 15, 16 and 17 but managed a birdie on 18. His ball-striking over the final 12 holes wasn’t as sharp as on the early holes, and he battled some tough pin placements on the back nine, he said.

“With those flag placements, if you got above the hole, odds are you would probably three-putt,” Wetterich said.

Conners, a Notre Dame commit from Downingtown, Pennsylvania, had a steady start of five pars, then bolstered his score with birdies on Nos. 6 and 9.  Conners continued his consistent play before giving back two strokes with bogeys on 16 and 17. He, too, finished with a birdie on the final hole.

Though Conners says the course is far from easy, it does fit his style of play.

“The greens here are firm, (and) the fairways are pretty tight,” Conners said. “It’s definitely a ball striker’s course, which plays to my advantage because I’m really strong with my irons.”

The biggest storyline of the day may have been the drastic change in weather. Winds gusted up to 30 mph throughout the morning, leaving the early wave of contenders to grapple with Mother Nature, while the afternoon competitors faced only a light breeze.

“The wind was definitely a factor,” said Sam Burns, of Shreveport, Louisiana, who was one of the early competitors and finished a stroke off the lead. “On a couple of holes, the wind was a two-club difference.”

Burns, the highest ranked junior in the field, excelled despite the opening round conditions, managing an even-par 72 to finish in a two-way tie for third.

That number was two better than any other score posted among the early starters, and far better than the morning field’s scoring average, which ballooned over 79.

And it could have been even better.

Burns hit his first six greens and an astounding 15 in total for the day. The only glitch was that his flatstick wouldn’t cooperate.

The LSU commit buried 4-foot birdie putts on his first and final holes, but got little else to drop. There were at least five strokes inside 10 feet that missed, including an especially cruel lip-out on the fifth, Burn’s 14th hole of the day.

“I felt like I was hitting some good putts, but that’s golf. They don’t go in all the time,” Burns said. “To shoot even par the way I putted the ball is a steal. If I can make some putts, I can put myself in a good position to be in contention on the last day.”

Overall, the afternoon wave boasts nine of the top 10 on the leaderboard. Conners and Wetterich lead the way at 1-under; Burns and Matthew Weber, of St. Charles, Illinois, are tied for third at even; tied for fifth at 1-over are Maxwell Miller, of College Station, Texas; Jack Comstock, of Jacksonville, Florida; Daniel Connolly of San Francisco, California; Dawson Armstrong, of Brentwood, Tennessee; Phillip Barbaree, of Shreveport, Louisiana; and AJ Varekois, of Rockford, Michigan.

Besides Burns, the best finishers in the morning wave sit in a tie for 11th at 2-over. Defending champion Collin Morikawa, part of the morning group, came in at 6-over.

The 97th Western Junior is a 72-hole stroke play event conducted by the Western Golf Association at Flossmoor County Club in Flossmoor, Illinois. The tournament field consists of 156 top-ranked national and international junior golfers ages 15-19. The field is playing the par-72 course at 7,136 yards.

All scores are updated live throughout the week and can be viewed here.

-Kevin Casey