Defending champion Connor Smith leads at Vaughn Taylor Invitational at Jones Creek

 

As the tournament’s defending champion, Connor Smith received a special parking spot at Jones Creek Golf Club.

After his opening round Tuesday in the E-Z-GO Vaughn Taylor Invitational presented by TaylorMade adidas Golf, Smith might be vying for a permanent place.

Riding a hot putter, the Shoal Creek, Ala., resident carded 8-under-par 64 to take a four-shot lead over Jack Comstock in the 54-hole event.

Tyler Bakich, John Yi and S.M. Lee are tied for third at 70. Tyler Barker and Zachary Tulley, each of Evans, are the low local players at 72, while David Hemann, of Evans, last year’s runner-up, opened with 73.

In the girls division, Khushboo Thiagaraj and Dylan Kim each shot 74 and hold a one-stroke lead. Sarah Harrison, of Martinez, is two shots off the lead.

The 17-year-old Smith is seeking his second win in a row after claiming the AJGA Huntsville Junior two weeks ago. He got off to a rough start on the first hole, posting his lone bogey of the day after missing the green on his approach. The Middle Tennessee commitment bounced back at the par-3 second, dropping a 60-foot birdie putt to get his day going.

“My mom says I’m a fighter,” he said, “because whenever I have a bad hole I make up for it on the next hole.”

Smith said he missed one fairway all day and left himself six 112-yard approach shots into the green – a comfortable knockdown pitching wedge shot for him, he said. Each time, he left himself tap-in birdie opportunities.

“I don’t really like to take a full swing,” he said. “I like to take a longer club and choke down on it. I hit it straight every time I do that.”

Smith’s hot putter continued late into his round. At No. 17, he rolled in a 35-foot birdie putt. On the closing hole, he drained a 15-foot birdie putt.

“I’ve been working hard with my dad on putting,” he said. “Putting’s been my struggle this whole summer. Today is the first day I putted really well.”

Smith will try to continue his hot putting in today’s second round. Going low again, though, might not be as easy.

“Tomorrow, golf doesn’t care that I shot 64,” Smith said. “I just have to go out there and do exactly what I did today.”

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