AIKEN -- Kevin King of Hilton Head Island didn't have far to drive after firing a 2-under-par 69 to lead the 24th annual Palmetto Amateur golf tournament Friday.
He just headed his car west down U.S. Highway 1.
A year ago, King's family moved to Augusta so their two daughters could train at Hayden's International Gymnastics Academy.
"They get down to see me or I get up to see them on the weekends," said King, a 42-year-old real estate agent in Hilton Head.
King and his wife Lynn's daughters are 10-year-old Victoria and 12-year-old Cameron. They attend Augusta Prep.
"It's a little different, but they both won state championships last year," King said. "We did it because we saw the love they had for the sport."
King didn't get back to Augusta from Palmetto on Friday night until after 8 p.m. Playing in the final group of the day in the final Regions Cup event of the season, his score edged out Mark Wagner of Statesboro, N.C., and Aiken's Daran Womack, who had 70s. Womack, a two-time club champion at Palmetto, won this tournament in 1993.
"It was a hot and slow day," King said. "We waited on about every shot until it opened up on the last three or four holes."
It's no surprise that a golfer like King, the 1989 South Carolina Golf Association Amateur champion, would be leading.
The course, always a challenge, has been toughened up for this tournament. The greens are firmer than ever, placing a premium on precise iron play.
"The golf course is playing tough," King said. "If you don't hit it in the fairway, where you can spin it on your second shot, it's real difficult to keep it on the green. The greens are firm and fast. You've got to think your way around the golf course."
That's the way the Palmetto Amateur golf committee planned it.
"A lot of time and detail has gone into this tournament," Womack said. "The committee has dedicated themselves to setting up a golf course for this type of championship. They've done more and more and gotten better and better at it."
King struck for four birdies against two bogeys while Womack had four birdies and three bogeys.
"When you go off and play in tournaments, you find golf courses this way (with firm greens)," Womack said. "It's new to everybody here a little bit. This is the best way to test the field. In the end, this golf course will identify the best golfer."
"I think this golf course should play the way it did today," said former champion Terry Ezell of Rock Hill, S.C., who shot a 73. "The more difficult the course is, the more mental and the more golf course management needed, the best player will win."
King isn't the only former state amateur champion who fared well Friday. Jason Martin, the 1998 North Carolina amateur champion from Lenoir, had a 72.
The 21-year-old Martin, who is red-shirting this season at UNC-Greensboro, played in last week's U.S. Amateur. After claiming the 64th and last spot in the stroke play qualifying into match play, Martin beat medalist Gene Elliott in the first round, then lost in the second round.
"I'm trying to play in as many amateur tournaments as I can," said Martin, who is taking a redshirt year so he can have five years at the school.
It was also a good day for the two Californians in the field. John Mallinger of Long Beach and Brett Parker of Villa Park both shot 71s.
"My golf coach at Long Beach State had heard about this tournament and he got me an invite," Mallinger said. "This is a good golf course."
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