AIKEN — As he prepares to enter his senior season at Alabama, Lee Knox knows what he needs to do to grab a spot in the starting lineup.
Four of the five Crimson Tide players off the national runner-up team return next season. Knox said he needs to start gaining some momentum now.
“I feel like I need to play well this summer to get myself in position to make that team,” he said. “I need to step it up.”
Knox rode a roller coaster Thursday en route to 3-over-par 73 in the first round of the Palmetto Amateur at Palmetto Golf Club.
The Augustan is chasing Clemson’s present and future in Billy Kennerly and Austin Langdale.
Langdale, a Clemson signee who will be a senior in the fall at Pendelton High School, opened with 66.
Kennerly, who just wrapped up his freshman season with the Tigers, shot a bogey-free 67.
Langdale is looking to win the Southern Cross and Palmetto Amateur in the same year – no one has pulled off the feat.
He shot 68-64 to win the Southern Cross in April.
“The greens are just so pure,” Langdale said. “I putted so well during the Southern Cross.
“It’s always set up well. I don’t know what it is, but it’s always fit my eye well.”
Kennerly is looking to improve upon his fifth-place finish in last year’s Palmetto Amateur.
The self-admitted short-hitter rolled in a 50-foot birdie putt at No. 6, one of his three birdies.
“I like the course. It’s not long,” Kennerly said. “The greens are always extremely good. It’s just a fun golf course to play.”
USC Aiken golfer Matt Atkins, Aiken’s Chandler Brazeal and Cody Shafer, of Evans, are tied with Spencer Cole, Marshall Talkington, and Motin Yeung at 69.
North Augusta’s Matt NeSmith, Augusta’s Chase Parker and Aiken’s Gaines Milliner, another USC Aiken golfer, are tied with a group of seven others at 70.
Knox, who turns 22 later this month, got off to a fast start at 1-under through eight holes. But inconsistency off the tee led to bogeys at Nos. 9, 11 and 13.
An errant tee shot at the uphill 15th hole led to double bogey. He caught his second shot from the bunker thin, and the ball flew over the green and out of bounds.
“It was just an up-and-down round,” he said. “I really didn’t get it going off the tee. I made some good putts. Unfortunately, I just didn’t play well enough to score well.”
Knox is playing five summer events before returning to Alabama, where he’s a communications major.
He will graduate next spring, but his main goal is to make the starting lineup and help the Crimson Tide win a national title.
“My teammates are great friends of mine,” he said. “It was fun watching them all the way to the end. Unfortunately, we came up a little short. But we’ve got a good enough team, and we’ll continue to be better next year.”