Hill separates from field at San Juan Open
Heat, high winds continues to be a factor at tournament
- Calum Hill holds a five-shot lead entering the weekend at the San Juan Open.
- Zahkai Brown posted the low round of the day, shooting a six-under 65.
- Three players are tied for second at four under while four more lurk at three under.
FARMINGTON — Scotsman Calum Hill took control of the San Juan Open, separating himself from the field with a four-under 67 during today's second round at the San Juan Country Club.
Hill started his round on the back nine and made the turn at five under but had some trouble on his second nine and recorded back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 4 and 5.
Hill's 67 moved him to nine under for the tournament and five shots clear of a trio tied for second at four under after 36 holes. Hill entered the day tied for the lead at five under with Steven Kupcho and Pat Grady.
Kupcho and Grady matched each other's scores again today, battling tough winds in the afternoon to post two-over 73s.
Andy Connell, Jesse Mueller and Scott Petersen are tied for second at four under.
Scott Fullerton and Richard Gaona joined Kupcho and Grady at three under.
Zahkai Brown posted the low round of the day, rebounding from a 76 in the first round to fire a six-under 65. Brown, who started on the back nine, said being able to play in the morning today when the wind wasn't as much of a factor as Thursday's round made a difference, but the biggest change came from changing his putting grip after the first seven holes of the second round.
"I actually switched grips from both thumbs down the grip to a pencil, so like a claw grip, on 17. I birdied 17, 18, eagled 1 and birdied 3. So I played pretty well after that. I just made some putts," Brown said. "I putt really well with (the pencil grip), but I don't like to use it on the course for some reason. But I was putting really bad so I decided to switch over to it. I've been playing poorly for the last month, so it was nice to shoot a good score."
If Hill can hold off the field this weekend, he'll become the third Scot in 11 years to win the SJO, joining Martin Laird, the 2006 champ who now plays on the PGA Tour and '13 winner Jimmy Gunn.
Hill, originally from Kinross, Scotland, came to the states in 2012, enrolling at and playing golf for Western New Mexico University in Silver City. At WNMU, Hill set program records for career scoring average, season scoring average, most rounds and lowest 54-hole score, and was named the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference's Player of the Year in 2015 and 2016.
Hill said he's not sure why he and his fellow Scots have had such success at the San Juan Country Club, only being able to point to the softer condition of the course compared to the links and parkland courses he grew up playing in Scotland.
"I think what I've found is here sometimes requires less manipulation of the golf ball," Hill said. "If you strike the ball well, you can hit a lot of straight shots, but back home with the wind blowing so much, you have to shape shots and get things to hold up a lot more than you do here, and I think that suits my game a lot better. Just doink it here, doink it there and try to make a putt."
Full results from the first two rounds of the San Juan Open and tee times for Saturday's third round can 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.