BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – Nevada club professional Stuart Smith admitted sleeping on the lead of the biggest tournament available to him might be a problem.
“I can’t say, ‘Oh, it won’t bother me.’ But to me, it’s fun,” Smith said after shooting a 5-under 66 on Thursday for a share of the first-round lead in the Senior PGA Championship.
Smith closed his morning round with a double bogey on the par-4 18th, and Scott McCarron, Tim Petrovic, Wes Short Jr., Barry Lane and Peter Lonard matched the 66 in the afternoon.
One of 41 club pros in the field at Harbor Shores for the senior major, Smith is the director of golf at Somersett Country Club in Reno.
“To see my name on the board out there, it’s not like I’m blind to the leaderboard, that was cool,” said Smith, who is playing in his fourth Senior PGA and third at Harbor Shores – where he has made the 36-hole cut the previous two times.
“All my members are taking pictures and I know at home my members are pulling up that screen and like I tell them, going to the middle and looking down. So it probably took them a while to find my name today.”
Petrovic, who was among the leaders in the Regions Tradition last week before a poor final round, said it was a little bit of a surprise when he heard Smith was at 7 under through 17 holes.
“There was a little bit of buzz, we were talking about it,” he said. “I heard somebody say 7 under and I said ‘who is it? And we looked up, but we didn’t know who the player was. In a tournament like this, you know how it is, there’s always one guy, one smart-alec that shoots 7, 8 under in the first round.”
Smith, who birdied five consecutive holes starting at the seventh, played college golf at UCLA and knocked around the mini tours and South Africa for several years without ever gaining his tour card. He was college teammates with some of the players in the field, including Corey Pavin, Duffy Waldorf and Steve Pate, but said he no longer seeks the tour life.
“It’s just not me anymore,” he said. “So that’s why maybe I do have an advantage this week because it’s just fun to me. It’s like my wife said – just enjoy the ride.”
Petrovic had seven birdies in his round while McCarron and Lonard played bogey-free rounds. Short holed out from the fairway for eagle on the par 4 12th and made eagle on the par 5 ninth hole, his last hole of the day.
McCarron is the only one of the six leaders with a major on his resume. He won the Senior Players Championship last year, and played The Players Championship recently.
“It was a lot of fun being on that stage, of course being at The Players with the best players in the world playing one of the best golf courses in the world,” he said. “I think the preparation there and just being on that stage helped me going into last week in Alabama, and certainly this week.”
The top two money winners on the PGA Tour Champions are not in Benton Harbor. Defending champion Bernhard Langer is skipping the event to attend son Jason’s high school graduation, and Steve Stricker is playing the PGA Tour event in Texas.
Paul Goydos, a five-time senior winner including the 2016 Charles Schwab Cup Championship, and Chris Williams of South Africa shot 67. Joe Durant, David Toms, Kenny Perry, Jerry Pate and Fred Funk were among 15 players at 68.
Colin Montgomerie, who won the first of consecutive Senior PGA titles here in 2014, shot 69, and Miguel Angel Jimenez, coming off a win last week in the first major of the year at the Regions Tradition, opened with a 70.
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