GRAND ISLAND – York’s man in the Class B state golf tourney, junior Leighton Thomas, sits in a four-way tie for eighth place after the first of two 18-hole rounds.
The championship will finish today with the second 18 holes over the Jackrabbit Run golf course on the northeast corner of Grand Island.
Tuesday, Thomas went one over with a five on the par-four No. 1 hole at Jackrabbit Run, then parred the next two holes before dropping another stroke each at No. 4 and No. 5. Pars at No. 6 and No. 8 were wrapped around bogeys at 7 and 9 to put Thomas at five-over 41 on his outward nine.
A couple more bogeys, one each on the opening two holes of the back nine, took the Duke junior to seven over, but not for long.
Thomas birdied the par five 12th and then took a three on the par four 13th to make it a five-over round through 13 holes.
Things were looking up for Thomas, but a bogey four followed on the 225-yard, par three 14th. A double-bogey six on No. 15 took Thomas to eight over for his round ahead of a matched brace of par fours on No. 16 and No. 17.
An encouraging birdie four on the par five 18th ended the Duke’s day on a positive note.
Thomas said his early struggles were mostly because, “I didn’t hit my wedges very close” from close range. “Once I got my putter going I had three birdies on the back,” he said.
The hot putter accounted for a 15-footer rolling in on 12, a 10-footer for eagle that just missed, but left a tap-in birdie at 13, then a 7-foot birdie putt that fell on No. 18 for a round of seven-over 79.
His double bogey on No. 15 began when, “I hit my drive into the trees. I tried to punch it out, but didn’t quite get it out of there. Then I hit it left, chunked a chip, chipped it on and putted it in for a double.”
As for the challenges of a very windy day, he said, “It’s hard to keep it (the ball’s trajectory) lower,” but even when he did “the wind would still take it even if I did hit a punch shot. It was bad. People’s bags were falling over because of the wind.”
What swing adjustments did the wind require?
Thomas advised to set up “with the ball more toward the back of your stance and try to hit another (the next longer) club.”
The Jackrabbit Run course itself, he said, “Is pretty wide open. It’s pretty easy, but today with that 30 mile-per-hour wind it was playing a little tougher.”
With all 75 players in the clubhouse, Thomas found himself just four strokes back of the leader, Scottsbluff’s Michael Hadden who shot 75.
“I’m not in too bad a position,” he said. “I feel pretty good about tomorrow (Wednesday’s round). If I get my putter going I should be fine and have a good chance of winning.”
His coach, Dan Malleck, agrees.
“The main thing” about Tuesday’s round, “was he didn’t get up and down like he always does” in Thomas’ fundamentally sound short game. “That cost him a few strokes,” Malleck said, “but he competed very well on the back.
“He stayed up near the lead and he’s got a shot tomorrow. It will be a fun day to go over and see how it goes.”