Brant Patton traveled to the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in June, a trip that was part of a graduation present.
Watching the best golfers in the world, he said he gained a deep appreciation of the simplicity that comes with hitting the ball in the middle of the fairway, away from costly hazards like the steep cliffs that disappear into the Pacific Ocean.
"I saw the importance of keeping it in play," he said.
Patton, a recent Lakeside graduate, did much more than merely keep the ball in play Wednesday during a steamy opening round of the Charles Howell III Junior Championship at West Lake County Club. He led 101 other golfers for most of his second nine before a costly final two holes snatched away his lead.
Patton ended an otherwise sparkling round with double bogey-bogey to finish at 1-under-par 71 and was one of only nine players under par by the end of the round.
Trey Valentine, of Melbourne, Fla., Zach Botts, of Jonesborough, Tenn., and Grant Houser of Holly Springs, N.C., all shot 69 to claim a share of the lead. Greenbrier senior Austin Vick had 70, the best round of any area player.
Former Columbia County residents Taylor and Ashlan Ramsey, who now attend the David Leadbetter Golf Academy in Bradenton, Fla., lead a field of 29 girls. Taylor, the elder sister by a year, shot 69, and Ashlan had 71. They were the only girls under par.
The three-day event, which drew 21 area boys and girls, as well as competitors from as far away as Paraguay and New Zealand, continues today at the par-72 course playing 6,857 yards for the boys. The field will be cut to the low 40 percent of players, including ties, for Friday's final round.
Patton, who will play at Georgia College & State, will try to rediscover the fine-tuned swing and steady putter that led to 32 on his first nine holes when he tees off at 7:45 a.m. today.
He started on the back nine during his first round and was alone in first place at 4-under (five pars, four birdies) by the time he reached the No. 1 tee.
"It was all my putting that got me there," he said.
A birdie on the short par-4 third hole -- he hit a pitching wedge to 5 feet -- moved him to 5-under, two shots clear. Patton then lost his drive into a hazard on the par-4 fifth hole and made bogey. Two pars later, his trouble really began. Patton pushed a 6-iron nearly onto the No. 9 tee box to the right of the eighth green. He mis-hit a flop shot over the green, then took three shots to finish from there. He bogeyed the final hole before exclaiming: "I'm glad I don't have any holes left."
He blamed his final two holes on fatigue, but said he was still proud to be under par. Patton, who plays out of Jones Creek, entered his first competitive tournament of the summer last week in Rome, Ga. He tied for 44th at the event won by Greenbrier's Cody Shafer.
Shafer had 72 and is tied for 10th, one shot better than a group that includes Greenbrier teammate Robert Robertson and two shots better than a group that includes Richmond Academy sophomore Greyson Sigg and Greenbrier's Jonathan Lilly.