The Valdosta Daily Times
Ryan Spears hadn’t played a competitive round of golf in a month after coming down with strep throat, and he was playing a course that didn’t fit his strength.
None of that mattered Thursday morning, though.
Spears shot a bogey free 6-under 66 to take the outright first-round lead of the South Georgia Classic at Kinderlou Forest Golf Club.
“It feels really good especially since this golf course never suited my game coming in here,” Spears said. “It is such a long golf course. … I got sick down in Midland and I hadn’t been able to play so coming into a 7,800-yard golf course is something you don’t normally look forward to.”
Spears, who briefly shared the lead Thursday afternoon with Woody Austin before he sank back to 4-under, holds the lead by one-stroke over a bevy of players, which includes Phillip Pettitt Jr.
Pettitt, who won the Wednesday Pro-Am of the South Georgia Classic a year ago, is one of three players tied for second at 5-under par, while eight players are tied at 4-under par. A total of 61 players are below par following Thursday’s opening round.
Playing off the No. 1 tee, Spears started his round with a pair of pars before posting birdies on three of his next seven holes, which he followed up with three straight birdies to start the back nine. He then made par the final six holes of the round.
While his score might’ve seemed easy, Spears said his opening round was anything but easy, thanks to Kinderlou’s tough layout.
“In course difficulty, I put it up there with Bethpage (Black) when I played in the (U.S.) Open in 2009,” he said. “... This course can still play tough, if you get it going in the right spots on the wrong sides of the greens you can be in trouble.”
While there is still a lot of golf remaining, Spears built plenty of confidence going into the final 54 holes of one of the toughest Web.com Tour events of the season.
“It builds a lot of confidence. I give that one of the best rounds I’ve played in the top 10 of all-time, because it is just so demanding,” Spears said. “From the distance standpoint, you have to be laser accurate with the long irons out there to get close opportunities. I definitely took advantage of every close opportunity I had.”
Pettitt was in the first group to go off the tee Thursday morning. While he had to fight some heavy fog halfway through his first nine holes — which he admitted got so heavy at one point he couldn’t see his second shot — Pettitt hung around and was never out of the top five, making a move late in his round with birdies on Nos. 13, 15 and 17.
“Played great; early tee time I got going,” said Pettitt, who admitted he has played Kinderlou about 20 times in his life, including when his friend got married at the course.
“Actually had to rush my warmup a bit. I got off to a good start. I birdied the second, a par 5, which honestly is one of the most gettable holes out here. I like this golf course. It is long, but to me it doesn’t just benefit the bombers. You still have to hit it in play and hit the greens.”
While Kinderlou Forest is the longest course on the Web.com Tour, Spears and Pettitt both admitted that the golfers that hit the ball the farthest aren’t guaranteed to win the tournament this week. After all, neither of them hit the ball very far and they sit atop the leaderboard.
“I think a short guy can win here,” Pettitt said. “Because a course like Omaha, the bombers can hit drivers and then into the green with a wedge. No bomber is hitting driver and wedge out here. There is still a lot of risk-reward. They can get to a couple of them. It is wide open. It is a long golf course, and everybody talks about this is a bombers course, but I feel like a medium guy can win out here.”