Derek Tolan has seen the bright and dark sides of the Southwest Kansas Pro-Am since he first made an appearance in the annual summer professional tournament.
He’s finished as high as a tie for second in 2011, and he’s missed the cut as recently as 2015, when he struggled at The Golf Club at Southwind and Buffalo Dunes Golf Course.
So Friday, in the opening round of the 38th annual Pro-Am, Tolan took the high road to a low score, shooting a 4-under-par 67 at Southwind in near-ideal conditions in the morning, and finished the day tied for the top spot with Kansas Citian Josh Weems, who matched Tolan’s 67 on the same layout in the afternoon, where the wind picked up and swirled.
Those two were two shots clear of third-place Will Paulsell, while four-time runner-up and former University of Kansas standout Chris Thompson was one of three players to be tied for fourth at 70.
Thompson and Ryan Hogue shot their respective 1-under 70s at Southwind, while Matt Mabry had his 2-under-par round at Buffalo Dunes.
For Tolan, who shot a 68 on Thursday to capture the Legacy Shootout, Friday’s round was a bit more adventuresome, but nonetheless still rock solid.
“If you throw in Thursday’s round, my middle 18 holes of the 36 was really good, and the first 9 and last 9 weren’t so hot,” Tolan said. “I had to make some really good par saves today to keep the low round alive.”
He began his round with two pars, then birdied both par 5s on the outgoing nine, the third and fifth holes with a tap-in 1-footer and another ironclad pitch shot to two feet on the fifth.
A ball in the water hazard to the right of the sixth green halted the momentum temporarily for Tolan.
“I was over the ball and it didn’t feel right, and I should have stepped back and re-set my stance,” Tolan said. “That’s a no-no. After that, I was able to re-focus.”
A gap-wedge shot to 20-feet on the seventh set up a birdie putt that found the bottom of the hole, and then Tolan closed out his first nine with pars at the eighth and ninth holes for an outgoing 2-under 33.
His incoming nine began impressively, making birdies at the 10th and 11th, with a pair of six-foot putts. But from there, his short game had to rescue him from a potentially higher score.
“I only hit two greens the rest of the way in,” Tolan said. “My short game salvaged the round coming in."
He said the 15th proved to be the pivotal hole that kept him under par, as he drove it into the deep rough, had to pitch out, then hit his third shot from 217 yards and dumped into the deep front left greenside bunker.
A blast out to 10 feet, and a par-saving putt kept his under-par round alive.
“First, I buried my tee shot, then I had a tough third into the green into the teeth of the wind,” Tolan said, “and then I made that big putt. It could have been a seven or eight on the card, and that just saved me.”
With the 16th through 18th holes playing downwind, Tolan found the hole locations to be especially challenging, with front placements making approach shots more difficult.
“You just kind of had to play it pretty safe to the middle of the green and two-putt to make par,” Tolan said. “The back nine was a little bit of a struggle today.”
While Tolan hit just 11-of-18 greens in regulation, his putter was on fire, where he had 10 one-putts en route to a 26-putt round.
Weems, playing in his first Pro-Am, began his round on the 10th hole, and his first nine holes consisted of birdies at the par-4 11th and 17th, while a bogey tempered the round at the par-3 13th.
On his incoming nine or the front nine of Southwind, Weems birdied the par-5 third and then eagled the par-5 fifth. A bogey at the eighth was offset by a birdie at the par-3 ninth to finish out his steady round.
Two former champions of the Pro-Am had rocky starts on Friday.
Four-time titlist Bruce Vaughan of Hutchinson shot a 1-over-par 73 at Buffalo Dunes, while 2013 winner Vilhelm Bogstrand, a native of Oslo, Norway, had a tougher time, shooting 76, also at Buffalo Dunes.
Clay Devers — who captured three consecutive Kansas Amateur Match Play championships from 1988 to 1990, the final at Southwind — shot an even-par 72 at Buffalo Dunes. He is the only player in Kansas Amateur history to have won three consecutive titles.
With no affiliation this year due to the departure of the Adams Pro Golf Tour, there are only 28 professionals competing in the tournament. There are 42 amateur teams, so each day there will be 14 teams who will play without benefit of a professional in their group.