(ANDOVER, Kan.) – Brandon Mancheno, 17, of Jacksonville, Fla., set a course record with an 8-under-par 63 Monday to take a two-stroke lead on the first day of stroke play in the 2017 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at the par-71, 7,049-yard Flint Hills National Golf Club.
“I was not trying to shoot that [score], I was just trying to shoot even par and be happy with that, but I got off to a pretty good start,” said Mancheno, who jump-started his round when he eagled the par-5 fifth by sinking an 84-yard lob wedge.
Mancheno, the 2015 U.S. Junior Amateur medalist at Colleton River Plantation Club, followed with birdies on three of the next four holes, including putts of 10 and 4 feet on Nos. 7 and 9, respectively. After making his lone bogey to start the inward nine, he regrouped with four more birdies, including a 6-foot putt on the par-5 18th to set the course mark.
“If you hit the fairways, you will have wedges in [to the green] most of the day, so you can get something going low,” said Mancheno, who is attempting to advance to match play for the third consecutive year. “I am still going to be aggressive [tomorrow], that’s just my game in general. I hit driver a lot here, and I am going to keep doing that no matter if I am in the lead or one or two behind.”
The U.S. Junior Amateur consists of 36 holes of stroke play followed by six rounds of match play, with the championship scheduled to conclude with a 36-hole final on Saturday at 7 a.m. CDT. The U.S. Junior Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
While Mancheno turned in a record-setting performance, Kaito Onishi, 18, of Japan, played an unusual round. He made a hole-in-one on his first swing and holed out his approach for an eagle on his sixth hole, the par-4 15th, en route to a 6-under 65.
“It was a great way to start,” said Onishi, who started his round on the 130-yard, par-3 10th and recorded the 13th known ace in championship history. “I hit where I wanted and it spun back the right way.”
He used the same club, a pitching wedge, on his 138-yard approach on No. 15, which grazed a tree branch, landed in the middle of green and eventually disappeared into the hole.
“It was a similar distance and it just happened,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be as good [as the ace] but the ball still flew nicely.”
Cole Ponich, 17, of Salt Lake City, Utah, matched Onishi with a 65 late in the day. He birdied his first two holes, including a 30-foot putt on No. 10, and later converted a flop shot from behind the green on the par-4 16th for his third of six birdies on the round.
“My course management and strategy are better and I got a little longer off the tee,” said Ponich about his improvement after failing to qualify for match play last year. “I am really confident over every shot. I know what to expect.”
Austin Eckroat, 18, of Edmond, Okla., fashioned a bogey-free 66 that included a long par-saving putt on the final hole after he hit his second shot into a water hazard. He made an 8-foot birdie putt on No. 2 and set up another birdie on the next hole by striking a 58-degree wedge to within 4 feet for a sizzling start.
“I didn’t want to get ahead of myself and start thinking about match play,” said Eckroat, who spoke about the experience of reaching the Round of 16 last year. “It helps because you know you don’t have to take it that deep to make the cut.”
Wells Padgett, 18, of Wichita, Kan.; Sean Maruyama, 17, of Encino, Calif.; and Ricky Castillo, 16, of Yorba Linda, Calif., each carded 4-under 67s. Padgett, who is competing in his third U.S. Junior Amateur and is the hometown favorite, made six birdies and two bogeys. He kept his round’s momentum when he got up and down for a bogey on No. 12 and followed with a short birdie putt on the par-4 13th. Maruyama, whose father Shigeki won three times on the PGA Tour, recorded a chip-in eagle from just off the green on No. 11 and sank a 30-yard pitch for a birdie on the par-4 seventh.
Eugene Hong, who reached the Junior Amateur semifinals the last two years, and Cole Hammer, who became the third-youngest golfer at age 15 to play in the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in 2015, each finished at 3-under 67. Hong, 17, of Orlando, Fla., had an eagle and four birdies, while Hammer, 17, of Houston, Texas, made five birdies.
Min Woo Lee, who is trying to become the first player to successfully defend his Junior Amateur title since Tiger Woods won three straight years from 1991-1993, and John Pak, a semifinalist last year, are among a large pack tied at 2-under 69. Lee, 18, of Australia, made eagle on No. 11 by converting a 40-yard approach with a 60-degree wedge, but later made double bogey on No. 15. Pak, 18, of Scotch Plains, N.J., birdied two of his last three holes, including delivering a 213-yard 3-iron to within 20 feet to set up an eagle attempt on the par-5 18th.
“Off the tee, you just have to hit the fairway,” said Lee, whose sister Minjee tied for 11th in this year’s U.S. Women’s Open and won the 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior. “It’s such a big difference from being on the fairway and being in the rough. You get some lies that are deadly and you can’t get onto the green.”
Davis Shore, of Knoxville, Tenn., is one of 51 18-year-olds playing in the championship for the first time after the USGA raised the age limit and lowered the Handicap Index for 2017. Shore, who nearly advanced to this year’s U.S. Open after losing in a playoff in the Memphis, Tenn., sectional qualifier, opened with a 69 that included four consecutive birdies on his outward nine.
Last year’s U.S. Junior Amateur runner-up, Noah Goodwin, 17, of Corinth, Texas, birdied his last hole to shoot even-par 71.
Flint Hills National Golf Club is hosting its third USGA championship.