JFK’s Kokrak unhappy with Amateur course

After shooting 70, he said the Springfield course was set up poorly.

SPRINGFIELD (AP) — The big debate was whether Mother Nature or Springfield Country Club won the opening round of the Ohio Amateur.

Only three players broke par — led by Blake Furgerson’s 3-under 67 — in a round which could not be completed Tuesday because of two major storm fronts. But it was the venue and not the weather that upset defending champion Jason Kokrak.

“I just don’t like the golf course. It’s not that it’s a bad golf course, I just don’t like this setup of the tournament,” Kokrak said after completing a 70. “It’s a golf course that levels the entire playing field out and it doesn’t separate the good players from the bad.”

Kokrak, the former Warren JFK standout, played in the U.S. Open just two weeks ago, so perhaps Springfield’s undulating greens suffer in contrast to the lightning-quick and perfectly smooth putting surfaces at legendary Oakmont.

Putting was difficult

“The uphill putts, are so hard to get up to the hole here,” Kokrak said. “Then I had putts downhill where you’re at the mercy of the grass on the greens; it’s like watching a snake going down the putting green. I don’t feel that the Ohio Amateur should be played here.”

Most of the 144 players were more frustrated by the weather. Play was delayed for almost five hours by two major thunderstorms which ravaged the course. Half the field was able to complete the first 18 holes, with nearly everyone else forced to get up early on today to complete the opening round.

Furgerson leads by one

In between the storms, Furgerson forged a one-shot lead over David Ludlow and Andy Miller, each of whom shot a 68.

A native of Concord, near Cleveland, Furgerson was 2 under after 12 holes when the first horn sounded to suspend play. On his first shot back after the resumption, he missed the green to the right on the par-3, 169-yard 13th. Then he hit the highlight shot of his round.

“It was a really difficult chip shot,” said Furgerson, a junior golfer at Loyola of Maryland. “I hit it just right and it took the slope, trickled down and almost stopped. It was almost like Tiger’s shot at the Masters — I didn’t think it was going to go in. It kept trickling and trickling and went in.”

Furgerson, third in the state medalist race as a senior at Lakewood St. Edward, followed that birdie with five pars to cap a satisfying day.

“This course doesn’t suit me too well but I just put a good round together,” he said. “I didn’t make any mistakes, I didn’t have any three-putts. I just played simple golf: fairways and greens. You can’t try to overpower it.”

Difficult layout

Springfield has starkly slanted, nuanced greens, part of the design by the renowned Donald Ross. A player who hits over the green is almost assured of conceding at least one shot to par. Sidehill putts usually mean turning your back to the target and hoping the curling ball hits the hole as it hurries down the slope.

“I found the speed of the greens to be OK if you’re below the hole. That’s the key,” Furgerson said. “It’s all about placement. You know that you can’t be above the hole, so don’t hit something that’s going to put you there.”

Ludlow, an 18-year-old from Burton, was the No. 3 player at Kent State last season. Playing in the same group with Ludlow, Miller tied for fifth in last year’s 100th Ohio Amateur at Canterbury Country Club in Cleveland. A former Otterbein College player, Miller lists getting a high-five from Tiger Woods as one of the biggest thrills of his life.

Alan Fadel, winner of the 1995 Ohio Amateur, shot a 74 and said the course wasn’t surrendering anything easy.

“The great architects like Donald Ross did golf courses that will stand the test of time — especially this one,” he said. “These greens are as good any greens you’ll probably ever putt.”

On that, everyone could agree.

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