INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Jim Martin said he wasn’t thinking about it. At least not while he played his first round Tuesday at the 2017 Trans-Mississippi Senior Amateur Championship at Eldorado Country Club.
The longtime amateur stalwart out of Dallas shot a 3-under-par 68 to stake a six-shot advantage in the Legends Division (ages 70 and under) of the 54-hole, stroke-play championship. Martin, 72, won the Legends Division crown in each of the past two years. He flew out west knowing he had a shot to score a “three-peat,” but tried his best to keep those notions at bay once he teed it up.
“Today was a day I was literally taking it one shot at a time,” said Martin, who would’ve shot 67 if not for a three-putt bogey on his final hole. “I wasn’t thinking about finishing, I wasn’t thinking about winning. All I thought about was the next shot, which isn’t easy to do when you only play a couple tournaments a year.”
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On a scorching-hot day that saw the mercury crest at 107 degrees around 3 p.m., Martin played early and made four birdies against the lone bogey. He started hot with a 10-foot birdie on the par-5 first hole. Martin eased in another birdie from 15 feet on the par-3 fifth. On the back nine, he ran in a pair of six-footers for red numbers on Nos. 11 and 14.
“They were all downhill,” he said. “I don’t know how I did it, but I never had an uphill putt.”
Martin, a semi-retired CPA, said his driver carried the day. It kept him in the fairway, where he was able to control his irons.
“I only missed one fairway – by about a foot,” he said. “I had a lot of wedges and 9-irons into these greens, which are really hard to get anything close to the hole on.”
Once he signed his scorecard, Martin retired to the comfort of the men’s locker room to soak up some air-conditioned relief. Only then did he admit how much a third consecutive Trans-Miss Senior title would mean.
“It would be glorious because you never think of yourself in that caliber,” Martin said. “But I was trying not to think about that today.”
Martin holds a six-shot lead over two Californians: Gene Ackerman from Elk Grove and Gary Shemano from Kentfield. They each shot 3-over 74s. The Legends Division played a total yardage of 6,021.
The Legends and Super Seniors (ages 65 and older) played in Tuesday’s morning wave before the heat reached its most oppressive temperatures. In Wednesday’s second round, those divisions will go out in the afternoon. Temperatures again are expected to be in the triple digits. When asked about his plan for Round 2, Martin didn’t blink.
“I’m going to drink a lot of water,” he said.
This year’s Trans-Miss Senior Amateur Championship returned to the postcard-perfect setting of the Californian desert for the second time since 2014. One of the first courses built in the famed Coachella Valley – now a golf mecca with more than 120 courses – Eldorado was designed by Lawrence Hughes and opened in 1957. Two years later, the club hosted the Ryder Cup. U.S. Captain Sam Snead’s led his team to a dominating 8½-3½ victory.
Tucked against the dramatic Santa Rosa Mountains, Eldorado in the 1950s was home to then-U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, who coined the phrase “Winter Whitehouse” at his residence along the 11th fairway. Once out of office, Eisenhower made his permanent home in the same house. It’s now owned by Eldorado members and features a bronzed bust of the 34th President in the backyard.
In 2003, Tom Fazio completely renovated the golf course. Fazio set the ninth and 18th tee boxes at the foot of Eisenhower Mountain. It makes for a stunning view off the back patio of the club, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.
In the Senior Division (ages 55 and older), Doug Williams posted a 1-under 70 in his Trans-Miss Senior debut. The retired 59-year-old plays out of Los Angeles, but he lived in Hong Kong for more than 30 years. He said the desert heat not only didn’t bother him; he prefers it.
“This is better than what you get in Hong Kong most of the time,” said Williams, who formerly developed golf courses across Southeast Asia. “The weather there is like Houston, only more humid and stickier. I like this weather. It makes it easier to stay loose.”
Williams said he scored better than he played Tuesday. He made three birdies and two bogeys and only made one putt longer than seven feet.
“I didn’t hit many good iron shots, but I chipped fairly well,” he said as he was headed back to the driving range to practice.
Quite the international amateur, Williams won the 1982 Spanish Amateur and has won the Hong Kong Senior Open – an amateur event open to all seniors – four years running. A week and a half before arriving at Eldorado, he won the “closed” version of Hong Kong’s senior amateur (for residents only) for the fifth consecutive year.
Williams leads the Senior Division by two shots over three players. David Ujihara from Brea, Calif., Gene Elliott from Des Moines, Iowa, and Kory Frost from Trabuco Canyon, Calif., all posted 1-over 72s. Ten players are within four shots of the lead, including defending champion Tommy Brennan from Covington, La. The 2016 champion shot 3-over 74.
The Senior Division played the course from 6,521 yards.
In the Super Senior Division (ages 65 and older), a four players share the lead. The group includes five-time Trans-Miss champion Chris Maletis, an Eldorado member by way of Portland, Ore.
Maletis won the Trans-Miss Super Senior Division title in 2015 when it was played at Brook Hollow Golf Club in Dallas. Prior to that, he scored Senior Division victories on four occasions, most recently in 2011. Maletis made three birdies Tuesday and is tied with Tom O’Grady from Los Altos, Calif., David Moore from Marana, Ariz., and Jody Vasquez from Fort Worth. O’Grady rolled in an eagle-3 on the par-5 17th to reach even-par for the day. Moore’s round was highlighted by an eagle on the par-4 14th hole.
Vasquez, meanwhile, colored his scorecard with five birdies, five bogeys and eight pars.
“Tee to green, the course is very fair,” said Vasquez, who ran off three straight birdies to close out his front nine. “The key here is the green complexes. The slopes are very forgiving, but if you hit on the wrong spot, you’re going to have a lot of trouble.”
The Super Seniors played the Eldorado course from 6,341 yards.
“The set up was very fair,” Vasquez added. “It plays at a good length for players our age.”
The second round begins Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. Following play at the end of the day, the field will be cut to the low 78 scores, including ties with a proportionate representation from each division.
About the Trans-Mississippi Golf Association
The Trans-Mississippi Golf Association is one of the oldest and most prestigious golf organizations in the United States. Established in 1901, the Trans-Mississippi is composed of over 200 member clubs located throughout the country. The Association is governed by a board of independent directors and is headquartered in Dallas, TX.
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