Windy conditions make for tough first round at SJO

Three players tied for lead at 5 under

Karl Schneider
Farmington Daily Times
Samuel Saunders reacts after missing a putt at the third hole during the first round of the San Juan Open on Thursday at the San Juan Country Club in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — High winds had the San Juan Country Club playing as tough as ever during the first round of the San Juan Open today.

Only 11 of the 59 professional golfers posted scores under par with Steven Kupcho, Pat Grady and Calum Hill leading the way with 5-under 66s.   

Kupcho and Grady were fortunate enough to tee off in the morning. Both headed out before 8:30 a.m. and took advantage of the course while the wind wasn't too tough.

"Coming out here, we saw the wind forecast and knew it was going to be windy. I just told myself to hit as many fairways and greens as I could," said Kupcho, who is playing in his first SJO. "I felt like I managed the course pretty well and some putts went in, and that's the difference between a 69 and a 66. I'm just glad I got off to a good start before the wind really picked up."

Low scores were there to be had in early stages of the afternoon, as well. Many of the players heading out in the second wave of tee times had birdie opportunities during their first nine holes.

Calum Hill, seen here at the 2017 San Juan Open on Thursday, June 22, 2017 in Farmington, eyes back-to-back tournament championships. Hill is shooting a combined 132 entering Saturday's third round of the 2018 San Juan Open.

Hill, a 2016 Western New Mexico graduate, was four under through the first three holes. He birdied the first two holes, a 502-yard downhill par 5 and 380-yard uphill par 4, respectively, then stuffed his second shot on the par 5 third to a few feet and knocked in the eagle putt to move to four under.

"It was a hot start and a mediocre finish," Hill said of his 66. "With the weather conditions and with wind picking up after I'd say four holes, it got pretty feisty."

But as the winds picked up and the temperature hovered around triple digits, the scores began to climb.

"The course was playing the hardest I've ever seen, that's for sure. It was very, very tricky," said Derek Tolan, who won the tourney in 2009. "The wind seemed like it was always blowing with the slope of the green, and with how drastic these greens are and fast they are, when you have the wind pushing the ball, too, it was by far the hardest I've ever seen it play."

Joel Atson smiles after hitting his tee shot on the first hole at the San Juan Open.

The second round of the SJO will get underway Friday morning with the first group teeing off at 7:30. Players who went out in the afternoon today will have morning tee times, while those such as Kupcho and Grady will be teeing off in the afternoon.

Kupcho said posting a low score in the first round, knowing the forecast is calling for high winds again Friday, was key to hopefully put him in position for the weekend.

"I think (Friday) the game plan becomes even more important," Kupcho said. "You've got to leave yourself below the hole and can't get too aggressive if you're above the hole. You can make putts from 20 feet below the hole but you can't make those putts from above. You have to manage the course really well with the wind."

Full results from the first round and tee times for the second round may be found at the tournament's webpage.

Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.