Warren JFK grad shoots opening-round 63 at Humana
LA QUINTA, CALIF.
Warren JFK High graduate Jason Kokrak has a share of the lead after the first day of the PGA Tour’s Humana Challenge.
Kokrak had two eagles and five birdies at La Quinta to finish with a 9-under 63. He shares the leaderboard with Roberto Castro and James Hahn. It’s the first time he’s shared the lead on opening day.
“I just tried to put it in the right spots, put it in the fairways,” Kokrak said. “Out there, that’s key. They’re tighter fairways and if you can be in the fairway, you’ll have a good opportunity for birdie.”
Kokrak agreed it was probably his best round since joining the tour, but didn’t realize it until a reporter called to ask.
“I had no idea,” said Kokrak, who admitted his second eagle “felt good.”
Kokrak started on the No. 10 tee and his second eagle came on No. 6.
“I didn’t hit the driver great all day but kept that shot in front of the green,” Kokrak said. “My caddie and I picked a good target [to aimo for] and I executed the shot exactly how I wanted, about 20-25 feet away.”
Castro had nine birdies at PGA West’s Jack Nicklaus Private Course, and Hahn had nine birdies on PGA West’s Arnold Palmer Private Course.
“It was a great day,” Hahn said. “Chipped two in. Hadn’t done that since I was nine.”
Russell Henley, the Sony Open winner Sunday in Hawaii in his first start as a PGA Tour member, had a 64 on the Nicklaus course. He’s 32 under in his first five rounds this year.
“It was a perfect day,” Henley said. “The weather is perfect. The greens were true. So, it’s just trying to stay patient and let the birdies come to me.”
Tied with Henley are Aaron Baddeley, Greg Chalmers and Doug LaBelle II. Baddeley played the Palmer course, and Chalmers and LaBelle opened on the Nicklaus course.
Kokrak said the experience of last year — his first on the tour — is helping.
“As a rookie out here last year I didn’t know any of the golf courses, came out here a few days early and played them before I went out to Sony,” Kokrak said. “So coming out here it’s a little bit more relaxed, it’s easier for me to get into a little bit of a routine, because I already know the golf course, I don’t have to go out there and learn every little detail about the course.
“So I can come out here and just concentrate on my game and what I need to work on instead of learning the golf course.
He said he’s adapting his game to the challenging courses.
“When I was growing up I used to want to hit the ball as far as possible, but now I have the length with my irons especially that if I get it in the fairway I’m going to have a short iron in to pretty much every par-4 or par-5 out here,” Kokrak said.
“So if I get in bad position I’m a good enough wedge player that I can normally wedge it close enough that I’ll have a great opportunity for birdie.
“But that’s something that I need to sharpen up this year and we’ll go from there,” Kokrak said. “Right now I’m just trying to put myself in the middle of the greens and make birdies.”
Phil Mickelson opened his season with an eventful even-par 72, nine strokes behind the first-round leaders.
Recovering from flu-like symptoms, the 42-year-old Mickelson had three birdies, a bogey and a double bogey at La Quinta Country Club — one of three courses used in the pro-am event that he won in 2002 and 2004.
“I felt a lot better,” Mickelson said. “I took it easy on Monday and Tuesday. It was like Day 10, but I’m fine now. I’m 95 percent better. I’m not contagious and the energy’s coming back.”