Hearn, Gillespie, Mike Grob, Michael Harris, Chris Wisler and sponsor invite Cameron Yancey each opened with a 6-under 65 at the 6307-yard Keswick Hall at Monticello, one shot better than Americans Hank Kuehne and Tim Turpen, as well as Andrew Smeeth and Chris Anderson.
Play was halted for an hour and forty minutes in the late afternoon when a storm blew into the Charlottesville area. Darkness suspended the opening round at 8:15 p.m. ET, with nine players still on the course. They will finish their first rounds Friday morning.
Seconds after the horn sounded to resume play following the delay, Hearn, 22, just missed an eight-foot birdie putt on his final hole that would have given him the outright lead. But the tour rookie, who has been the first- or second-round leader in four events this season, is looking forward to challenging once again this weekend.
Im still feeling confident in my game, I am swinging the club well, said Hearn. I know if I am getting interviewed by you guys, Im getting the job done. Id finally like to get interviewed on Sunday, though.
Less than a week after his first professional win at the Myrtle Beach Barefoot Championship, Gillespie, the 2001 Canadian Rookie of the Year, finds himself in the early hunt once again. On Thursday, he hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation.
Yeah, well see what happens but Im not worried about that, Gillespie admitted when asked if he was thinking about becoming the first player to win back-to-back events since Steven Alker, of New Zealand, did it two years ago. Of course, it would be great to do but I wont put any pressure on myself. Im just thinking about playing good golf. Everything is coming around for me right now.
Just as play was halted in the afternoon, Grob came into the clubhouse with a share of the lead. After an eagle on the par-5 opening hole, the 38-year-old Grob did himself one better when he aced the 137-yard, par-3 third.
An eagle and a hole-in-one will help every time, thats for sure, smiled Grob. I hit the ball well all day, although I didnt make a lot of putts.
With the rough in some areas reaching as high as ten inches, keeping the ball in play will be crucial all week. Grob was able to do that Thursday, hitting all 14 fairways off the tee.
If the guys can keep it on the fairway, it is going to turn into a putting contest this weekend, he added. If you go into the rough on any hole, there is going to be problems.
Harris birdied his first three holes, including a 15-foot putt on the par-4 second, and missed just one fairway all day.
The start was key for me, by the time I knew it I was 3-under, said Harris, who finished tied for eighth at last years Grant Forest Products/NRCS Classic in Sudbury, ON. There is no way you can plan on a start like that, but you are able to feed off it and stay aggressive. Hitting straight is key out hereif you get it in the rough, youll be struggling to make bogey all day long.
Named in honor of former Canadian Tour rookie Lewis Chitengwa, who died suddenly in Edmonton last summer during the TELUS Edmonton Open, Harris admitted that there was a little more emotion involved in the Tours eighth official event of the year. Players and tournament officials are wearing buttons with Chitengwas picture emblazoned on them this week.
A lot of the guys have Lewis on their mind this week. You think about a 26-year-old guy in the prime of his life, doing what it is we are trying to do. You try not to think about it when you are playing, but then you realize how blessed we are to play golf. Whether we shoot 63 or 73, we are lucky, and I think this tournament is a great way to pay tribute to Lewis.
Yancey was also a close friend of Chitengwas, with the two starring together on the University of Virginia golf team. In fact, Yancey took Chitengwa to get his first drivers licence in Charlottesville.
Despite playing the three par-5 holes at 1-over, Kuehne, widely regarded as one of the longest hitters in the world, managed a strong start Thursday. Coming off two events in Myrtle Beach, SC, where he admittedly struggled, Kuehne hopes to turn things around and increase his lead atop the money list this week.
These past two weeks Ive played poorly, I was a little rough around the edges, said the 26-year-old. Its been frustrating, especially after playing so well for most of the year, but Ill keep working. Ill get things turned around.
Full Coverage from the Lewis Chitengwa Memorial Championship