Jay McHugh Leads Texas Mid-Amateur
HOUSTON – Jay McHugh from Midland fired a 4-under-par 68 on a rain-soaked Friday to take the lead in the first round of the 2018 Texas Mid-Amateur Championship at River Oaks Country Club.
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McHugh, a 39-year-old Oil Field Salesman, took advantage of playing in the afternoon wave, which largely dodged the steady downpour that lasted throughout the morning. McHugh got off to a fast start with birdies on three of his first six holes. He added an eagle on the par-5 eighth hole and made the turn at 5-under par. McHugh held on with a birdie and two bogeys on the back nine to sign for 68. That gave him a one-shot lead over Robert Mills from Houston and Christopher Wheeler from Addison.
McHugh came into River Oaks riding a hot streak. He won twice in August; both victories came in his native West Texas. McHugh teamed with 2014 Texas Mid-Amateur champion Terence Begnel to win the Lubbock Par Buster Four-Ball Championship in early August. A week later McHugh chased down Begnel to win the Midland City Championship. Begnel held a five-shot lead going into the final round, but McHugh shot a 12-under 60 to win by three shots.
“I’ve had some success in the last month,” McHugh said. “Terence told me to stay aggressive and not overthink things. I hit driver pretty much everywhere on the front nine.”
Tied for second place, Mills and Wheeler also played in the afternoon wave the avoided the worst of the day’s weather. They both rolled in five birdies on their way to shooting 3-under 69s.
Five players are tied for fourth place at 2-under 70, including River Oaks member Gregg Hammer and 2016 Texas Senior Amateur champion Lewis Stephenson from Mansfield. Hammer and Stephenson, along with Rockwall’s Kip Estep, share the Mid-Master Division lead for players ages 40 years and older. All three veteran amateurs posted 2-under 70s in the first round.
Also in the fourth-place logjam at 2-under was Clay Hodge, the 2013 Texas Mid-Amateur champion. The 33-year-old from Tyler played in the morning wave, when nearly an inch of rain fell on River Oaks. Right when the rain was at its heaviest, Hodge went into a zone. Soaked the core and playing without rain gear, Hodge poured in a 10-foot birdie on the 12th hole. He then made a 3-footer for birdie on No. 13, a 22-foot birdie on No. 14, a 12-footer for birdie on No. 15 and a 15-footer for birdie on No. 16.
“The weather was so bad that it really makes you focus on what you’re doing,” Hodge said. “You don’t have time to think about anything else. All of a sudden, I made five birdies in a row.”
Colby Harwell, who won the 2017 Texas Mid-Amateur last summer at Comanche Trace, received his 2017 Texas Player of the Tear trophy on Thursday night at the Players’ Welcome Reception. Harwell also won the 2017 Mid-Amateur Match Play Championship last year.
This week he’s attempting to accomplish something no one has done in almost a quarter of a century. The last player to successfully defend the Mid-Amateur title was Texas Golf Hall of Famer John Grace, who won the championship four years in a row from 1991-94.
Harwell started his defense with an even-par 72 in the first round, which included a hole-in-one on the par-3 sixth hole. Harwell used an 8-iron to score the ace from 158 yards.
“I knocked it down a little and hit a little draw in there,” Harwell said of his sixth hole-in-one, four of which have come in competitions. “It never left the flag. It landed one foot short and one foot to the right and spun right in there.”
Despite the half-inch of precipitation River Oaks took on overnight prior to the start of the championship and the steady rain throughout the first half of the day, the first round went off without a single delay.
The players all seemed to enjoy the well-maintained River Oaks and the challenges it presents. This is the first statewide championship held at the venerable club since 1973. River Oaks played host to six Texas Amateur Championships from 1926 to 1973. River Oaks also welcomed the 1964 Texas Senior Amateur.
Founded in 1923 and designed by the great Donald Ross, River Oaks underwent a massive renovation in 2014-15. The club hired Tom and Logan Fazio, who, among other improvements, significantly expanded the driving range, built three new holes on the back nine and reconfigured green complexes and bunkering to allow for more of the bump-and-run style of play that Ross originally had in mind for the beautiful piece of property in the heart of Houston.
Round 2 of the championship begins at 8 a.m. Saturday. Following the conclusion of the second round, the field will be cut to the low 54 scores, including ties. For more information on the 2018 Texas Mid-Amateur Championship, click here.