OSU’s Grabeman leads JFK’s Kokrak

The former Xavier player is two shots behind in the Ohio Amateur.

SPRINGFIELD (AP) — Not so long ago, Kevin Grabeman was so bad on the greens that he considered quitting golf. Now the rest of the field at the Ohio Amateur wishes he had.

The 21-year-old Ohio State junior put the finishing touches on a 4-under-par 66 and followed it with a 71 on Wednesday to take a two-shot lead on defending champion and Warren JFK High graduate Jason Kokrak midway through the 101st Ohio Amateur at Springfield Country Club.

Just last spring, Grabeman thought maybe he was wasting his time playing the game. He couldn’t hit a putt and was terror-stricken that he’d three-putt.

“I was close to giving up the game. It was getting that bad,” the Springboro native said.

Mental makeover

Rather than give up, he reverted to fundamentals — and got a mental makeover.

“I just went back to basics. I didn’t mess with my stroke or anything because everybody told me I had a good stroke,” said Grabeman, who was at 3-under 137. “I just went back to my setup and keeping my head down. It’s amazing how many putts you’ll make if you keep your head down.”

Kokrak, a former Xavier player who won two state championships with JFK, was in an ideal position to stalk the leader. He shot a 69 a day after opening with a 70.

“You can’t play other people in this tournament,” said Kokrak, who would like to go to tour qualifying school later this year. “You’ve just got to stick to your own game plan and play the golf course itself.

“You can’t go out there and be like, ‘OK, he made a bogey so I have a one-shot difference.’ You just have to shoot a number as low as you can.”

Few break par

They were the only two players able to break par at par-70 Springfield, renowned for its narrow sightlines, narrow fairways and twisting, tilted and fast greens.

After the first round, Kokrak said he was unhappy with the pin placements and the course itself. He didn’t back away from that stance after the second round.

“Some of the pin placements out there were, let’s say they weren’t totally unfair, but they were just ridiculous to putt to,” he said. “Basically, you hit it and pray when you get above the hole. It’s all a game of luck.”

Kokrak, two weeks removed from playing in the U.S. Open at Oakmont, had three birdies on the back nine to cruise into second. A year ago, he rolled to a four-shot victory by shooting an even-par 71 in the final round.

Playing on his home course, Andy Birch shot a second-round 70 to stand at 141 for third place.

Simply the best

How good did Grabeman play? No one else among the first 72 players to finish the second round was closer than seven shots.

Grabeman averaged 78 strokes in 10 rounds playing for the Buckeyes last season. His best finish was a tie for 51st in Ohio State’s Kepler Invitational in mid-April.

His two rounds were just about as different as the weather has been the two days at Springfield Country Club. He was 1-under through eight holes when play was suspended by darkness after almost five hours of delays due to thunderstorms on Tuesday.

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