AIKEN — The past two years, Matt Atkins has banked plenty of knowledge of Palmetto Golf Club.
When he saw the pins Friday, he used his insight to play a conservative round of 1-over-par 71. Halfway through the Palmetto Amateur, Atkins sits at even-par, four shots behind Austin Langdale.
“I gave a lot of respect to the golf course,” said Atkins, who just wrapped up his junior season at USC Aiken. “Some of the pins out there didn’t quite fit my eye. It wasn’t really an aggressive round.”
Langdale, trying to become the first golfer to win the Southern Cross and Palmetto Amateur in the same year, birdied three of the final five holes for 70 to take a two-shot lead over Lee McCoy (68), of Clarkesville, Ga. J.D. Tomlinson, of Gainesville, Fla., posted the day’s low round (67) and is in third, three shots behind Langdale, of Towneville, S.C.
The low 48 players and ties after today’s round will advance to Sunday’s final round.
Aiken has a couple of players in the thick of contention with Atkins and former Aiken resident Chandler Brazeal, who just finished his sophomore season at Wofford. After missing the cut and finishing tied for 38th in his previous two Palmetto Amateurs, Brazeal shot 71 and is tied for fourth with Atkins and four others.
“Compared to the last two years, this is much better,” he said. “This year, I’m in the middle of it.”
Atkins is looking to continue his hot play on what he considers his home course. The Owensboro, Ky., native transferred to USC Aiken two years ago and has steadily improved.
He just finished off one of the best seasons in USC Aiken history, shaving 2.6 shots off his previous season’s stroke average. Atkins was named a Division II first-team All-American – and Division II second-team academic All-American – after posting five top-10 finishes, including a victory at the NCAA South/Southeast Regional. Atkins recorded a 72.5 season scoring average, which ranks fifth in school history.
“Going into the year, I didn’t really set those goals. I just wanted to improve on my game and be in the top five and travel each week,” he said. “On paper, it was a huge jump, but I’ve always felt I had the game to play well out here.”
Atkins, who’s staying this summer at the Greg Norman Champions Golf Academy in Longs, S.C., is playing a limited schedule.
He’s committed to the Rice Planters and Cardinal Amateur and a U.S. Amateur qualifier.
“I’m just practicing, working on my game,” Atkins said. “I’m just going to enjoy the summer.”