Originally created 07/17/04

Kuhlke first at tough course



Tripp Kuhlke is the surprise leader the first round of the Augusta City Amateur golf tournament.

Not that the 44-year-old Augustan isn't capable of winning the 54-hole tournament; the surprise is that he's playing in it at all.

Kuhlke won last week's Goshen Golf Classic, after which he said that would be his lone Regions Cup appearance of the year.

"Yeah, I did say that, but I got the green light from the homestead," Kuhlke said after shooting 1-over-par 73 at Forest Hills Golf Club on Friday. "I just kind of said, 'I want to play in the city amateur,' and I didn't get a negative response so I called and signed up Tuesday."

Kuhlke was aware the "new" Forest Hills course would be right up his alley.

He plays his best golf on tough courses, and Forest Hills - which underwent a seven-month renovation from April to November in 2003 - is a bear at 6,800 yards for Friday's round.

That's especially true on the greens, all of which were rebuilt. They went from some of the slowest and bumpy greens in the area to among the smoothest and fastest. They're also extremely firm, and have new and extreme contours.

"The greens are pretty difficult," said Kuhlke, who hit 17 greens in regulation, but had three 3-putts and a 4-putt.

"It's pretty difficult to get the ball close to the hole," Kuhlke said. "The greens are firm, and some clubs you have into them, you can't hit it high enough to make it stop. You've got to play for the bounce. You've got to realize that and not let it get to you."

Because of the new greens, making birdies isn't easy anymore at Forest Hills, but Kuhlke had four of them. That matched the total in the feature pairing of Jeff Pope (75), Brendan O'Connell (76), Phillip McCormick (77) and Scott Brown (80).

Aiken's Patrick Cunning didn't have any birdies, but shot 74 to share second place with John McCormick, who bogeyed his first two holes.

"They're tough to putt on," said Cunning, 20. "You've got to keep fighting and see what you can do."

Pope is tied for fourth place with Zac Tilton, Crane Garren and Ryan Shell.

Regions Cup points leader Tommy Carpenter is one of six players at 76. Carpenter had two birdies, one on No. 18.

In the senior division, which played a 6,200-yard course, Mike Jackson and Mike Kelley shot 73s. Those two were involved in an eight-hole playoff last week at Goshen, which Kelley won.

Kuhlke's 4-putt came on the par-3 seventh hole. He was in the back of the green, and the pin was in the front, 65 feet away.

"I knew I had no chance to two-putt," Kuhlke said.

He was 3-over for the round after he bogeyed No. 12 (the only green he missed), but birdied Nos. 13 and 18 coming in.

Kuhlke stayed patient last week at Goshen, where he won with 8-over-par 148 at the toughest course in the Regions Cup.

Forest Hills isn't far behind in terms of difficulty.

"It would be pretty surprising if somebody shoots par," Kuhlke said. "The greens are just so severe."

Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851 or david.westin@augustachronicle.com.