DAYTON — Like someone flipped a switch, a warm fall day turned into a tough windy challenge for the field of 72 players in the first round of the Stage One Web.com Qualifying tournament at Dayton Valley Golf Club on Tuesday.
High winds were forecast for the day and they began to blow in earnest around noon. Given the already hard and fast conditions on the Arnold Palmer-designed greens, players with early tee times had a distinct advantage. The rest of the field battled steady winds of around 15 miles per hour with gusts as high as 28 miles per hour for at least half or more of their rounds.
It’s no surprise the first round leaders all had early tee times. John Ellis of San Jose, Calif., in the first group off the tee on No. 1, and Dusty Fielding of St. George, Utah, each fired 7-under par 65 to tie for the lead.
Derek Tolan of Highland Ranch, Colo., and Darren Wallace of Canada were also early starters and are one shot back after shooting 6-under 66.
Nick Killpack of St. George, Utah, carded the best round of the late finishers with a 2-under 70. Fielding was the low qualifier in 2012 PGA Tour qualifying at Dayton and finished in a tie for 14th in last year’s Web.com Tour Qualifier. He had seven birdies in a bogey free round on Tuesday.
“I got off to kind of a slow start but I hit my irons well and just didn’t make any putts on the front,” said Fielding who has played on the Web.com Tour the last two years. “I birdied 10 and 11 down wind, and then it’s kind of funny because the wind turned completely around when I was in the 12th fairway. It really was blowing into us. I was just trying to make pars on 13 and 14 and ended up making birdies as well as a birdie on 15 for three in a row and that really made it a good round.”
Fielding is good friends with fellow Utes Tony Finau and Zac Blair, who both advanced through last year’s Dayton Qualifier to the Web.com Tour and capped off the season by earning 2014-2015 PGA Tour Membership. Finau and Blair tied for 12th in the PGA Tour’s Frys.com Open last week in Napa, Calif.
“It’s really cool knowing those guys and playing a lot of golf with them,” Fielding said. “I stay in touch with Tony and we talk a lot during the season. I hope I can follow his footsteps this year.”
Former Nevada Wolf Pack golfer Scott Smith of Fallon shot an even par 72 and is tied for 18th place. “It was pretty borderline out there with balls oscillating on the greens on the second nine,” said Smith, who started on hole 10 and shot 3-under 33 on his front but 3-over on the course front nine when the wind picked-up.
“It’s a bit of an advantage for me in this wind because I grew up with it and I’ve learned you just have to have the right mindset for these conditions,” Smith continued. “I know where my best opportunities are to just make par so I can make the least mistakes because you are going to make some bogies in this stuff.”
Trent Virden of Reno, a 2010 McQueen High grad, shot 1-over 73 and is tied for 24th place. “I played well the majority of the day even when the wind came up heavy on our back nine,” said Virden who has played Dayton many times and thinks it’s an advantage being used to the wind. “But I’ve never seen it this windy out here and it was hard to get the ball to stop.”
Conditions became so blustery some players questioned whether it would be sufficient cause for officials to suspend play.
“It was a tough day to play but we play in similar conditions all year on the PGA Tour and Web.com Tour,” said Steve Carmen, head tournament official and PGA Tour Director of Qualifying Tournaments. “These guys will face this kind of conditions if they get on tour.”
Despite conditions seeming extreme, the field had an overall opening round scoring average of 74.02 – a full stroke lower than last year’s first round average of 75.08. Last year’s first round was played in less windy but colder conditions.
The 30 low scores and ties after Friday’s final round of the 72-hole tournament will advance to Second Stage Web.com Tour Qualifying. Players advancing to the second stage will play to make the Web.com Qualifying School Final where they will vie for a spot on the 2015 Web.com Tour.
For complete results and individual player scorecards visit the web link: http://pgatq.bluegolf.com/bluegolf/pgatq14/event/pgatq1420/contest/1/leaderboard.htm.