Trio leads AJGA after opening round


Garden City's Larsen 2 shots back at 74.

Garden City's Larsen 2 shots back at 74.


Griffin Barela, Zachary Hoskins and Tate Tatom ended up at the same destination at the end of their journey around Buffalo Dunes Golf Course after the first day of the AJGA Kansas Junior Championship Tuesday.

Those three completed the 18-hole round at even-par 72 on a day that grounded most birds in western Kansas.

With the typical hot windy summer-like conditions of temperatures in the high 90s, and the wind velocity that felt like gale-force (30-35 mph gusting to 45 mph), those three — Barela from Lakewood, Colo., Hoskins from Orlando, Fla., and Tatom from Gallatin Gateway, Mont. — ended the day with a slender one-shot lead over a pair of golfers — Ben Fernandez of Southlake, Texas, and Michael Hodson, the 2013 runner-up.

Lurking two shots back at 74 are two more, one of whom is Garden City High School sophomore-to-be Taylor Larsen.

For Larsen, battling the blustery conditions, something he has seen on more than one occasion, was the challenge of the day.

"Today, I was just trying to hit the ball to certain spots that I knew I could miss and still have a chance to get good scores," Larsen said. "Today, my short game was what salvaged the round for me. Everything went in (putts). It was a big difference between the high school season and today. I've been practicing on the chipping and putting, and today everything just fell in place."

That included just 26 putts on the glassy-slick conditions, along with the challenge of the wind.

"In the wind, it's hard to read, but somehow I managed to putt great," Larsen said. "Knowing where to miss shots was a key factor. It was definitely one of toughest rounds I've played here. This is up there with the toughest of them."

All in all, the home course proved to be friendly to Larsen.

"Just knowing the greens was a big help," Larsen said. "The thing that worked well was my chipping. I hit a bunch of flop shots to near gimme range, and I had easy putts."

That included a trio of up-and-downs, along with a 30-foot birdie putt on the par-3 eighth, and a kick-back eagle on the short, downwind par-5 13th. He also escaped on the par-3 17th after messing up his chip shot by draining a 30-foot par putt.

"That was certainly crazy, but I made it," Larsen said. "The main thing was not to make a big number."

He almost made it through the round without one, but did suffer a double-bogey on the par-4 ninth.

"Just hit it in a bad spot, chipped it out, hit a wedge left, got it on and then missed the putt," Larsen said.

He followed that with two bogeys before settling in to finish the round with six pars and the eagle.

For the three leaders, their opening round certainly took circuitous routes to their even-par rounds.

Barela registered four bogeys, which were balanced by four birdies, while Tatum nearly duplicated that effort with three bogeys and three birdies of his own.

Hoskins, meanwhile, was the epitome of a roller-coaster.

During his tour, he had a quadruple bogey 9 on the opening par-5 first hole. He birdied the sixth and ninth holes to go out in 38, and then came through the back nine at 2-under-par 34 that included an eagle, two birdies and a double bogey.

"The card doesn't tell the full story," Hoskins said. "The tough holes on the course you're just trying to find the fairway. I made a few mistakes that were costly, but overall I hit a lot of good shots, and I like where I'm at. I was just a few shots away from a great round."

Hoskins said after a spring of high school golf where he felt his putter had abandoned him, it was encouraging to finally make some putts.

"It's the best putting day I've had in eight months," Hoskins said. "I just need to make a couple of adjustments with the clubs I use on certain holes. But I couldn't ask for a better start. The rest of the course is there for the taking."

Barela, who is playing in his first AJGA event, said the conditions were about as challenging as he could remember.

"I struck it (the ball) solid, but I've never really played in this kind of wind before," Barela said. "I got off to a good start, made some putts and I was just able to hit some good solid shots in the wind. I'm very happy, very excited."

Tatom, too, had a steady round to get his even-par score completed.

"It just seemed like every hole we played, the wind increased," Tatom said after his round started with the wind blowing at 15 mph. "Being from Montana, I've played out in the valleys in the wind, but this was atrociously windy. You just suck it up and play. It was just tough to pick a club and you didn't want to be long."

Tatom said he did hit two drives into the deep native grasses and managed to get out and salvage par both times.

"I putted extremely well, that's the biggest thing," Tatom said. "The key is just to keep the ball in play."

The Kansas Junior is just the second AJGA event in which Tatom has competed, with the first being in 2013 when he played in Medford, Ore., where he finished fifth.

"First time I've been in the lead, so the plan is to go back out (today) and try to play steady," Tatom said. "I feel really comfortable with the course, and I know I'm in fantastic shape. I don't get to play this nice a course. The greens putt true. The course just sets up well for my game."

The second round was to begin again today at 7:15 a.m. with tee times running until 1:45 p.m. in the two division event.

Garden City's other entrant, Daniel Gaspar, shot an 83 and was in a tie for 59th.

Results in Scoreboard, Page B2.

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