FARMINGTON— The San Juan Open offers something for everyone.
The total purse of more than $85,000 entices some players, while others see it as a potential launching point for their professional careers. But for certain players, like local favorite Notah Begay III, the tournament is a chance to have fun and relax on the course at San Juan Country Club.
"It was fun. I had a great time. I didn't play very well, but I don't really expect to these days," Begay said with a smile after shooting a 2-over 73 in Thursday's first round. "It's a great event. They do a lot of wonderful work for charity, and I think that's a wonderful combination to have, a community that's committed to something like this."
The 41-year-old Albuquerque resident said he was glad to play at the Open.
"Golf's a great game, and it has given me so much," Begay said. "It's wonderful to be back in New Mexico and playing at places that I really enjoy."
Those looking to cash in on the weekend will need to be patient around the greens as course superintendent Chris Heslin has the course set up to reward accuracy as opposed to distance off the tee.
"It's a challenge," Begay said of the course set up. "The greens really protect the golf course because it's not very long, especially for the younger kids. They're used to hitting it so far, but length doesn't really give you that much of an advantage here. You have to know the golf course and put the ball in the smart places to give yourself as many uphill putts as possible."
One player who was able to take advantage of the greens was Albuquerque's Kent Jones.
Jones, a 47-year-old pro who has spent extended periods of time on the PGA Tour, started the day birdie-birdie.
"I felt like I hit the ball really good today and gave myself a lot of chances," said Jones, who fired a 5-under 66. "I got off to a good start, birdieing the first two, and had it right in front of the green on three and probably should have made birdie there, too."
Like Begay, Jones said the key to success on the course is playing smart and avoiding the temptations that come with a short course.
On the par-3 13th, Jones was in between clubs from the tee. He had the option of playing safe and leaving the ball short of the green, or attacking the pin.
"I hit it good," Jones said of the tee shot. "It was to the front edge, so it didn't seem that good, but chip it up to the hole and make the putt and you make your par. That's better than hitting a really good shot that goes past the hole where you're probably going to three-putt. It's just doing that — putting the ball in the right spot as much as you can."
The players will get a little help this weekend, too.
As a result of the lingering winter kill in the fairways, the club has implemented lift, clean and place within the fairways.
"It's a huge advantage for scoring," said San Juan Country Club general manager Randy Kahn. "You can't have a bad lie as long as you keep it in play."
By being able to place the ball in the fairway, players can better control the spin on their approach shots to leave the ball below the hole.
"All the conditions are calling for low numbers," Kahn said. "I feel like it may take 4-under to make the cut this year."