Resilient Canadians Lead After Day One

November 2nd 2011 - For Immediate Release                                            
 
The Spirit Golf Association
Nov. 2, 2011
(P) 713-823-5750
mbutton31@gmail.com
 
TRINITY, TEXAS—Two holes into the first round of The Spirit International, the day couldn’t get any worse for Canadians Garrett Rank and Mackenzie Hughes. It was so bad, in fact, that all they could do was laugh.
 
     Rank and Hughes are probably still giddy now, having rallied from a bogey-bogey start to collectively birdie 10 of the next 16 holes at Whispering Pines Golf Club. Combined with a 4-under par effort from teammates Brook Henderson and Taylor Kim, the Canadians surged to the Day One lead in the International Team Division at 12-under-par 132. 
 
     The U.S. Team sits a shot back at 11-under, followed by Italy at 10-under. The second round of the 54-hole, Best Ball Stroke Play tournament featuring the top 80 amateurs from 20 countries in two-man, two-woman teams starts Thursday at 8:30 a.m. (Tee times and live scoring are available at www.golfstat.com.)
 
     “It was a tough start,” said Rank, a 24-year-old varsity hockey player and golfer at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. “We obviously had a little talk and settled ourselves down.” 
 
     Starting on the back nine, Rank and Hughes both bogeyed the 10th and 11th holes. Heads down, they walked to the 12th tee box. Team captain Derek Ingram approached his men there and quickly tweaked the attitude.
 
     “I joked with them that maybe it was time to hit some fairways and greens and just calm down,” Ingram said. “They laughed, and I think it relaxed them.”
 
     It seemed to inspire them, too.
 
     Both Canadians birdied the 12th hole, a 551-yard par 5. Hughes then poured in a birdie on No. 13 and Rank nearly chipped in for eagle on the 14th. After Rank tapped in third consecutive team birdie, the rough start was a distant memory.
 
     “That 12th hole was the key. It really settled us down,” said Hughes, the 2011 Canadian Amateur Champion.
 
     Rank and Hughes added birdies on four of their next seven holes as well. Hughes finished six birdies on the day, which tied him with American Kelly Kraft for the lead in the Individual Men’s Division. Hughes’ teammate Rank is tied with three players for second place in the individual birdie race with five.
 
     “We’re right where we want to be,” Rank said. “This is a long tournament, but we definitely didn’t play our way out of it.”
 
     The U.S. team also overcame a bit of a sluggish stretch to rush into contention by the end of the day. Three-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Nathan Smith birdied the first hole, and teammate Emily Tubert, the 2010 U.S. Public Links Champion, birdied the second. Over the next hour, it was slow-going for the Americans.
 
     Then Kraft caught fire with dialed-in iron play and a responsive putter.
 
     The reigning U.S. Amateur champion shrugged off an indifferent start and made his first birdie on the 453-yard, par-4 seventh hole. Kraft hit his approach on No. 7 to four feet and drained the putt. The fuse was lit and he birdied five of the next 10 holes.
 
     “I don’t know if I warmed up right,” said Kraft, a two-time Texas Amateur from Denton, Texas. “I hit some loose shots out there at the start. But I turned it around. Once I started making some putts, it freed everything else up.”
 
     In all, Kraft made 40 feet of birdie putts, including a mercury-fast, downhill 15-footer that broke three and half feet on No. 10.
 
    “That was the best putt I hit all day,” he said. Kraft also made a 15-footer on the par-3 15th hole and a slippery six-footer from above the hole on No. 17. It was that type of deft putting action that led Kraft to a 2-up victory over the world’s top-ranked amateur, Patrick Cantlay, at the U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills in August.
 
     Kraft’s teammate Smith had three birdies on the day, as did Tubert.
 
     “It’s easy to play with Kelly,” said Smith, a 33-year-old career amateur. “I just watched him and kept score.”
 
     Austin Ernst, the fourth U.S. team member, had one birdie on the day. Ernst said she and Tubert played well below their potential, which should bode well for the Americans if they straighten it out.
 
    “Neither of us played well,” said Ernst, the 2011 Women’s NCAA Div. I Individual champion. “We have the ability to birdie just about every hole out there together.”
 
    The third-place Italians were paced by Laura Lonardi, an 18-year-old high school student who carded six birdies. She leads the Women’s Individual Division by two birdies over Australia’s Jaimee Dougan and Kyu-Jung Baek.
 
    “I enjoyed the course,” said Lonardi, the reigning Italian Women’s Match Play champion. “This is one of the most beautiful courses I’ve ever seen. But it’s really hard, too.”
 
     Sixteen of the 20 teams finished under par in round one. For the first time in 21 rounds of Spirit International play, not a single eagle was recorded.
 
     Canada and the U.S. are tied atop the Men’s Team leader board at 8-under par. Australia and Japan lurk a shot back. Italy leads the Women’s Team Division at 6-under. Canada and Korea are within two shots at 4-under.
 
About The Spirit
The 2011 Spirit International features 80 participants from 20 countries representing six continents. Country teams are comprised of national amateur champions and top-ranked players. The format of play for the competition is Four-Ball Stroke Play. The men’s and women’s Four-Ball score is combined for the International Team competition. There is also a separate men’s and women’s team and individual competitions.