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Byron Meth takes first-round lead at PBC, but Nebraska natives are in the hunt

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Luke Kluver

Luke Kluver of Norfolk matched par 71 Thursday at the Pinnacle Bank Championship at Indian Creek.

Scott Gutschewski figuratively rolled up his sleeves — though he had the long ones to do it literally — so he can start Friday in red numbers at the Pinnacle Bank Championship.

The veteran Omaha tour pro went birdie-birdie-par to finish at 1-under 70 in steaming hot, sometimes breezy conditions Thursday at Indian Creek in the Korn Ferry Tour tournament.

Soon after he finished in the shadows of the 40-foot chalet on hole 9, it looked like Gutschewski might be three or four strokes off the lead — and Norfolk 19-year-old amateur Luke Kluver another one back — until Byron Meth came along.

Meth made the first double eagle on the tour this season. His albatross 2 on the 15th hole, rolling in a 5-iron shot from 219 yards, vaulted him from 4-under to 7-under — and into a two-stroke lead.

“It was dead into the sun. It was a big ball of fire in the sky. I couldn’t see anything,” he said.

He parred in for a tour career-low 64. Next with 66s, also in the afternoon wave, were Chad Ramey and Tyson Alexander.

So Gutschewski is six back and Kluver seven heading into cut day. Ryan Vermeer of Omaha shot 73 and Brandon Crick of McCook 74.

Gutschewski has started wearing lightweight long-sleeved liner shirts underneath his short-sleeved ones.

“I’ve seen guys do it more and more,’’ he said. “I got back from Colorado, went on Amazon and found some for like twenty bucks for 10 pair, and we said we’ll give ’em a shot.

“We got out here Sunday and wore them a couple days. They’re not any hotter, and I think they help a little bit when you get a little breeze; it’s a little cooling when they’re damp from sweat. It definitely helps with sun protection, right?”

Gutschewski said he was hitting the ball well but “couldn’t buy a putt” until the final three holes. He credited his son and caddie, Class B state champion Luke Gutschewski, for a tip.

“We’re walking off either (holes) 3 or 5, and I said, ‘I’m just clueless with the putter and just need to get into the house,’ ” the pro said. “And he told me something I’ve told him, because that’s what he does, and it helped a little bit. I made a nice putt, a 10- or 12-footer, on 7 and on 8 and a nice two-putt on 9.

“I had pushed a couple, pulled a couple. I had been putting really well. So it was kind of shocking. My speed was fine; I just wasn’t getting on line. He just said, ‘Do this, Dad. You tell me to do this.’ So I said I better take my own advice.”

Kluver got a boost from starting with two birdies on his first three holes. The three-time Class A champion, who signed with Kansas, was 1-under at the turn and had a birdie and two bogeys coming in.

“I’m very pleased with today’s round,’’ Kluver said. “I thought we had a good game plan coming in, and I executed it pretty well through the front nine. Obviously, it got tougher as the wind blew, but it’s good to get that round in.”

He said his patience was good, aided by Millard North golf coach Jake Hirz as his caddie, even through what he called a couple of bad breaks on the second nine.

One was on the par-5 7th hole, where his lie in a fairway bunker off the tee was nearly unplayable. But he managed par and followed with two more for his 71, which he said included three or four par putts of between 6 and 8 feet.

“Those are the round-savers,’’ he said.

Like Gutschewski on the same holes, Vermeer went birdie-birdie-par to finish his round. On his 17th hole, a par-3, he holed out from high rough.

The No. 1 and 2 golfers in Korn Ferry points, Xinjun Zhang of China and Robby Shelton from Alabama, have work to do to make the cut. Zhang shot 76 and Shelton 78.


Once at 4-over, Vermeer recovers

Ryan Vermeer had drifted to 4-over, and the director of instruction at Happy Hollow Club needed a change of direction.

He got it with back-to-back-birdies — one on a hole-out — to get back to a 2-over 73 and stay in contention to play on the weekend at the Pinnacle Bank Championship.

On Indian Creek’s No. 8, his 17th of the round, he pitched in from high rough right of a greenside bunker.

“I was coming off a birdie, and to make that was extremely unexpected,’’ Vermeer said. “To make 4 from over there was going to be pretty good, and to make 2 was unbelievable.

“I definitely needed it. I was leaking oil there. It helped me move forward for tomorrow for sure.”

Vermeer said he can’t hit the ball as poorly as he did Thursday. “But I putted the ball better than I had recently,’’ he said. “If I get the ball-striking to where it should be I feel like I should be able to make some birdies.”

Double eagle has landed

Byron Meth already was playing well, and had been to 5-under before a bogey from the trees on the par-4 14th. The 26-year-old tour rookie skipped past 5- and 6-under to get to 7 with his double-eagle 2 on the 573-yard, par-5 15th.

He had 219 yards to the hole after his downhill drive, and his 5-iron hit about 25 feet away on the green and rolled in with a camera rolling — videographer Dave Evenson, whom Meth knows because both are San Diego natives.

“I had a 4-iron out because the wind was a little in from off the left, but we were talking about it, and I pulled a 5,’’ Meth said. “Dave was behind the green out there, and I thought, ‘Oh, this would be a good one to stuff in there.’ And then he goes nuts, and I think it must have gone in.”

His wife, Valentina, also was there — as his caddie. That added to the moment.

“It’s awesome. It’s one of the reasons we’re doing this,’’ Meth said. “We get experience traveling around the world together and all the different golf shots. An albatross, that’s the first one ever for me.”

He takes a two-stroke lead over Chad Ramey and Tyson Alexander into Friday’s second round with his 64 from Thursday.

“Looking at the course in the practice rounds, it was long. Tough,’’ Meth said. “You can’t hit a lot of drivers. There are a few holes where you have to lay back and have mid-irons into the greens. It’s all about your iron play and getting it in the hole. And thankfully I didn’t have to putt on 15.” At No. 82 in Korn Ferry Tour points, he can use a win or high finish. He tied for sixth two weeks ago but missed the cut last week in Colorado.

“I’m on the bubble to get into the finals, so I need a few good weeks to lock up the finals and give it a good run,” he said

Heating up in afternoon

After no one shot better than 67 in the morning half of the field, Meth had his 64, and Ramey and Alexander had 66s.

A 38-foot putt on the par-3 fifth for Ramey was the first of six birdies in an eight-hole stretch. He had the lead briefly before a bogey on 16. The Mississippi State product has had two top-15 finishes in his past four starts.

“The past month or so I’ve been doing a really good job of resting Monday through Wednesday,” said Ramey, who has made all 20 starts this year but is No. 74 in the standings. “I’m just trying to stay really good mentally, which is harder than the physical part of it. But I feel like I’ve been doing a really good job of it.

“Where I’m at on the points list, if I ended up taking an event off, and it ended up coming down to a point or two, I would feel pretty stupid because I was just sitting at home.”

Alexander is on a roll with four consecutive top-25 finishes.

“It’s not perfect, but I’m scoring pretty well, which is nice,” he said. “A lot of times we can play really good golf and not score, and I’m not doing the opposite of that, but I’m getting the ball in the hole pretty good. I’m playing a little better, and a little bit of luck can go a long way.”

Stu's Views

Who needs witnesses?

Gene Sarazen’s fabled double eagle at the 1935 Masters had few witnesses, and that was the case when Byron Meth rolled one in after 7:30 p.m. on the par-5 15th hole. What Sarazen didn’t have was a tour videographer, the only witness for Meth not there as a player or caddie. Bet the shot made SportsCenter late night.

Shot of the day

Generating the most applause was Ryan Vermeer’s hole-out for birdie from high grass on hole 8.

Emphasis on ‘Korn’

The sight was befitting for the tour’s new title sponsor, Korn Ferry — oversized bags of popcorn in a corner of the press room Thursday. A kid’s dream come true. Alas, it was only in temporary storage.

Hot, hot, hot

Slather on the sunscreen, hydrate before, during and after, find shade in the Indian Creek trees. It’s going to be another scorcher Friday. For the conditions, first-day attendance of 3,827 was respectable.

Players to watch

Scott Gutschewski (1-under), 7:13 a.m, hole 1: Come out for lunch at the tournament and see him finish. Remember he tied for second two years ago in the first Pinnacle Bank Championship.

Byron Meth (7-under), 8:19 a.m., hole 10: Call the first-round leader Albatross Man, as he made a deuce on a par-5 Thursday. The San Diego native is in his first year on tour.

Brandon Crick (3-over), 8:30 a.m., hole 10: The McCook pro needs to go low, before the blast-furnace heat kicks in, after an opening 74.

Luke Kluver (E); Ryan Vermeer (2-over), 2:32 p.m., hole 1: The last group of the day undoubtedly will have the largest following with these Nebraskans. They’ll make the turn at happy hour, too.

Friday tee times

Hole 1

6:40 a.m.: Rob Oppenheim, Tag Ridings, Brian Campbell

6:51 a.m.: Rhein Gibson, Michael Johnson, Steven Ihm

7:02 a.m.: Lanto Griffin, Casey Wittenberg, Ben Martin

7:13 a.m.: Scott Gutschewski, Tim Wilkinson, Maverick McNealy

7:24 a.m.: D.H. Lee, Ben Kohles, Nicholas Thompson

7:35 a.m.: Dan McCarthy, Vince Covello, Ryan Yip

7:46 a.m.: Matt Atkins, Michael Hebert, Matthew Campbell

7:57 a.m.: Albin Choi, Jimmy Stanger, Marcelo Rozo

8:08 a.m.: Matthew NeSmith, Will Zalatoris, Austin Smotherman

8:19 a.m.: Charlie Saxon, Dylan Wu, William Harrold

8:30 a.m.: Bryan Bigley, John Oda, Ben Polland

8:41 a.m.: Andre Metzger, T.K. Kim, Gray Townsend

8:52 a.m.: Nyasha Mauchaza, Brian Dwyer, Denzel Ieremia

12:20 p.m.: Michael Gellerman, Justin Lower, Rico Hoey

12:31 p.m.: Zecheng Dou, Rick Lamb, Vincent Whaley

12:42 p.m.: Michael Gligic, Steve Wheatcroft, Edward Loar

12:53 p.m.: Scottie Scheffler, Chase Seiffert, Callum Tarren

1:04 p.m.: Xinjun Zhang, Michael Arnaud, Brad Hopfinger

1:15 p.m.: Blayne Barber, Erik Barnes, Oscar Fraustro

1:26 p.m.: Conrad Shindler, Greg Yates, Eric Steger

1:37 p.m.: Michael Miller, Braden Thornberry, Norman Xiong

1:48 p.m.: Brian Richey, Wade Binfield, Nicolas Echavarria

1:59 p.m.: Paul Haley II, Lee Hodges, Thomas Bass

2:10 p.m.: Garrett Osborn, Doug Ghim, Kevin Lucas

2:21 p.m.: Jack Maguire, Nick Voke, Motin Yeung

2:32 p.m.: Ryan Vermeer, Kyle Westmoreland, Luke Kluver

Hole 10

6:40 a.m.: Nelson Ledesma, Billy Kennerly, Harry Higgs

6:51 a.m.: Sebastian Cappelen, Andres Gonzales, Scott Harrington

7:02 a.m.: Erik Compton, Jonathan Randolph, Tyler McCumber

7:13 a.m.: Trevor Cone, Brett Drewitt, Danny Walker

7:24 a.m.: Mark Anderson, Ben Taylor, James Driscoll

7:35 a.m.: Kristoffer Ventura, Mark Hubbard, Martin Flores

7:46 a.m.: Timothy Madigan, Todd Baek, J.T. Griffin

7:57 a.m.: Jamie Arnold, Chad Ramey, George Cunningham

8:08 a.m.: T.J. Vogel, Tyson Alexander, Grant Hirschman

8:19 a.m.: Drew Weaver, Byron Meth, Zach Wright

8:30 a.m.: Brock Mackenzie, Brandon Crick, Corey Pereira

8:41 a.m.: Jon Curran, Horacio Leon, MJ Daffue

8:52 a.m.: Jimmy Beck, Robby Ormand, Blake Cannon

12:20 p.m.: Mark Hensby, Taylor Moore, Max Rottluff

12:31 p.m.: Brad Fritsch, Chris Baker, Jim Renner

12:42 p.m.: Rafael Campos, Kyle Reifers, Frank Lickliter II

12:53 p.m.: Joseph Bramlett, Steve LeBrun, Brett Coletta

1:04 p.m.: Steven Alker, Steve Marino, Zac Blair

1:15 p.m.: Dawie van der Walt, Bo Hoag, Christian Brand

1:26 p.m.: Robby Shelton, Luke Guthrie, Kevin Dougherty

1:37 p.m.: Vince India, Max Greyserman, Andy Zhang

1:48 p.m.: Joshua Creel, Jordan Niebrugge, Michael McGowan

1:59 p.m.: Carl Yuan, Joseph Winslow, Andres Gallegos

2:10 p.m.: Ethan Tracy, Jimmy Gunn, Paul Imondi

2:21 p.m.: Matt Harmon, Davis Riley, Will Cannon

2:32 p.m.: John VanDerLaan, Matt Hill, Toni Hakula

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Stu is The World-Herald's lead writer for high school sports and for golf. Follow him on Twitter @stuOWH. Phone: 402-444-1041.

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