HUTCHINSON, Kan. — A pair of Tennesseans share the lead after the first round of the 114th Trans-Mississippi Amateur Championship at windswept Prairie Dunes Country Club. Hunter Richardson, a senior at the University of Tennessee at Martin, and Stoney Crouch, a recent graduate from Nashville’s Lipscomb University, each shot 3-under-par 67 under taxing conditions. They hold a one-stroke advantage over Iowa junior Matthew Walker from Ottumwa, Iowa, headed into Wednesday’s second round.
(For complete scores, click here.)
Set in almost the exact middle of the United States, Prairie Dunes is considered by most as the premier inland links-style golf course in the country. Central Kansas, meanwhile, is known for its hot, windy summer days. Nothing that happened in the first round of this year’s Trans-Miss Amateur disputed either of those reputations.
On a sun-splashed day that saw temperatures crest around 103 degrees in the mid-afternoon, the 144 players in the field battled 30-mph winds and Perry Maxwell’s venerable 1937 design that weaves in and around knee-high heather grass-covered sand dunes. Richardson and Crouch presevered on a tough day.
“It’s a grind,” said Richardson, a two-time Ohio Valley Conference champion. “The wind makes this course so hard. The greens are firm. I really try to take it hole by hole, shot by shot. You can’t get ahead of yourself in winds like this. I played pretty well today.”
Born and raised in Clarksville, Tenn., Richardson made five birdies on the day, including consecutive 3s on the par-4 11th and 12th holes. A nine-time winner in his three years at UT-Martin, Richardson pursues more than just red numbers on golf courses. He’s an ardent outdoorsman who hunts deer, ducks and turkeys. He’s also an honor roll student, and his coach Jerry Carpenter said he’ll go down as the best golfer in school history.
“I’ve been here 48 years and coached the golf team for the past 14,” Carpenter said. “I’ve seen all golfers who have come through here. Hunter beats them all. History will bear that out. He was a sleeper when I got him. I knew he’d have a chance to be good, but I really didn’t know he’d be this good. A lot of people passed on him, and that’s my win. I’m in Memphis at a big junior tournament right now, trying to find the next Hunter Richardson. That’ll be tough to do.”
Playing two groups behind, Crouch birdied three of his final five holes to match Richardson’s 67. A native of Mount Juliet, Tenn., Crouch had seven top-3 finishes in his career at Lipscomb. He qualified for the past two U.S. Amateurs and finished fifth twice at the Tennessee State Open (2013, ’16).
“I knew the wind was going to blow,” he said. “I tried to slow my swing down off the tee. I hit one bad drive in the high grass, but other than that I drove it well. That was the key to my round.”
Both of the leaders played in the afternoon wave, when the heat and wind were at their most vicious. Walker shot the morning’s lowest score, a 2-under 68 that puts him one shot back.
“I hit the ball really well today,” Walker said. “I had a lot of opportunities and made some putts. I missed a couple short putts, but I made some long ones that offset them.”
Two shots off the lead at 1-under 69 are Daniel Sutton from England and two Texans: Chandler Phillips from Huntsville and Trevor Brown from Austin.
This is the sixth time Prairie Dunes has played host to the Trans-Miss Amateur. As most of the best courses do, Prairie Dunes has produced some memorable winners. Jack Nicklaus won the 1958 Trans-Miss Amateur at the breathtaking par-70 track. Texas Golf Hall of Fame member John Grace took home the 1996 edition at Prairie Dunes. Former professional and current NBC Sports broadcaster Gary Koch won the 1973 Trans-Miss Amateur here.
With the original nine holes built by Maxwell in during the Great Depression, his son J. Press Maxwell construction completed the routing in 1957 after his father’s death. The British-style, windblown course also welcomed the 2005 Trans-Miss Senior Amateur. That championship was won by Trans-Miss Director Chris Maletis of Portland, Ore. It was the second of Maletis’ five Trans-Miss Senior titles.
CHAMPIONS RETURN: There are four previous Trans-Miss Amateur champions in this year’s field. Collin Morikawa, winner of the 112th Trans-Miss Amateur at nearby Flint Hills National in 2015, is tied for seventh place after the first round. The Cal-Berkeley junior shot an even-par round of 70.
Defending champion Will Zalatoris, who also won the 111th edition at Southern Hills in 2014, is T34 after a 3-over 73. Robert Funk, the recent Low Amateur at the U.S. Senior Open, won the 2006 Trans-Miss Amateur at Brook Hollow in Dallas. He is T99 at 7-over 77. Trans-Miss champion in 2000 and 2008 Mike McCoy is T122 at 10-over 80.
WALKER CUP WATCH: Adding to the strength of the field, at least six players competing in the 114th Trans-Miss Amateur are in the conversation for the Walker Cup.
Among those hopeful to play for their country at the 26th Walker Cup Match are Morikawa, Zalatoris, Stewart Hagestad, Scottie Scheffler, Doug Ghim and Davis Shore. In less than two months, U.S. Captain John “Spider” Miller will announce the names for his 10-man team. That squad will lock horns with Great Britain and Ireland’s top amateurs in the biennial match play exhibition on Sept. 9-10 at Los Angeles Country Club.
Hagestad, the 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and reigning Low Amateur at the Masters, is T54 at 4-over 74. Scheffler, the recent Low Amateur at the U.S. Open who finished T2 at Prairie Dunes in April at the Big 12 Championship, is T34 at 3-over 73. Ghim and Shore are both T99 at 7-over 77.
PD STANDS TALL: The stroke average for the first round was 75.19. Only six players broke par with another eight sitting at even-par 70. The uphill par-4 fifth hole that measures 477 yards and plays directly into the stiff south winds ranked toughest at 4.80. It yielded four birdies and 23 double bogeys or worse.
The 512-yard, par-5 seventh plays in the opposite direction – directly downwind – and was the only hole to average under par at 4.65. There were 68 birdies and seven eagles on the seventh hole.
SPOTLIGHT ON SUNFLOWER STATE: It’s a big month for amateur golf in Kansas. Thirteen players in the Trans-Miss Amateur field this week also qualified for U.S. Junior Amateur. Once play concludes Thursday at Prairie Dunes, they’ll make their way wander about 60 miles to the southeast to Flint Hills National and compete for the USGA national championship.
A 1997 Tom Fazio design, Flint Hills National played host to the 112th Trans-Miss Amateur in 2015. Morikawa ran away with the title that year; he won by seven shots over 2015 U.S. Junior champion Philip Barbaree.
Those playing in both championships this month are:
• Parker Coody from Plano, Texas
• Austin Eckroat from Edmond, Okla.
• Cole Hammer from Houston, Texas
• Garrick Higgo from Stellenbosch, South Africa
• Cameron John from Melbourne, Australia
• Andrew Kozan from West Palm Beach, Fla.
• Kaiwen Liu from San Diego, Calif.
• Chris Nido from Miami, Fla.
• Wells Padgett from Wichita, Kan.
• Davis Shore from Knoxville, Tenn.
• Tyler Strafaci from Davie, Fla.
• Matthew Wolff from Agoura Hills, Calif.
• Shuai Ming Wong from Spring, Texas
BEHIND THE LOGO: Adorned on all Prairie Dunes-branded apparel, the yucca plant is indigenous to central Kansas. The semi-woody shrub typically stands anywhere from 3 to 6 feet tall. Firm, sharp stalks form the thick base and yield to stacked white flowers at the top.
Yuccas are prevalent in Reno County and are similarly widespread across Prairie Dunes, especially in and around bunkers.
The flowers bloom in May or June and usually last about three weeks. This year the buds were out in time for the Member-Guest Tournament, which everyone loved to see. Although the yuccas add to the aesthetics of the property, they’re also notorious for gobbling up errant shots. Nine times out of 10, when a golf ball enters a yucca plant it doesn’t come out, no matter how long a golfer might search for it.
The best tip for hitting out of a yucca plant? That’s easy. Don’t hit it there.
“I’ve tried every different way to hit out of them,” assistant pro Mike Franko said. “There really is no way to get out of them. The leaves are so firm, it’s best just to take an unplayable lie and move on with your day.
WHAT’S NEXT: The second round of the 114th Trans-Miss Amateur begins Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. At the conclusion of the second round, the field will be cut to the low 54 scores (including ties).
The final 36 holes will be played in succession on the final day of the tournament, mirroring most collegiate championship formats.
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.
16837 Addison Rd., Suite 100
Addison, TX 75001