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April 27, 2013

Swafford grabs lead, looks to build momentum

VALDOSTA — Hudson Swafford just missed out on earning his PGA Tour card in 2012. He finished last season 27th on the Web.com Tour’s money list, less than $3,000 from the top 25 and a chance to play on golf’s biggest stage.

Now back on the Web.com Tour in pursuit of earning his card in 2013, Swafford is looking to turn around his game after a dismal start to this season. So far this week at the South Georgia Classic, he seems to have figured some things out and finds himself in contention heading into the weekend.

The University of Georgia graduate and Tallahassee resident fired a bogey-free 5-under 67 in his Friday morning round to grab the second-round lead, which held up throughout the afternoon rounds. Swafford is 8-under for the tournament and leads five players who are tied for second at 7-under par.

“My caddy and I came out here early Tuesday and just kind of got a game plan together and talked about it, where you can be aggressive and where you can’t,” Swafford said. “There are a lot of par holes out here. I know the fairways are generous, but these greens are tough.”

Among those tied at second place are Michael Putnam, Andrew Loupe, Will Wilcox, D.J. Brigman and Bhavik Patel.

In Friday’s round, Swafford birdied three of his first six holes before following it with birdies on Nos. 14 and 16, posting one of the best rounds of the day.

“You just have to give yourself chances and that is what I have done,” Swafford said. “Hitting it long is definitely an advantage here. I’d say hitting 7, 8-irons into these greens instead of 5-irons, especially with some of these pins, is definitely a good advantage.”

Part of Swafford’s game plan he demised with his caddy earlier in the week was hitting the ball far and taking advantage of certain fairways and holes to get birdies. Like he said, there are a lot of holes on Kinderlou Forest that aren’t birdie material and golfers are simply better suited taking a par, instead.

“I am going to stick to the game plan — continue to hit it solid, putt good and chip good,” Swafford said. “You can kind of get in that mode where you’re like, ‘Oh I need to make birdies. I need to make birdies.’ That is how I have been playing lately and it hasn’t been working. I did some good work this last off week and I came up with a good game plan for this place — not to look ahead and not to look behind. Pars are good out here.”

The impressive start at the South Georgia Classic for Swafford brings a sense of relief to a golfer that currently ranks 98th on the Web.com Tour’s money list this season, after earning just $8,498 in six events. In those six starts, Swafford has missed the cut three times and has finished outside the top 25 in the other three events.

So this week has been nice and allows Swafford to build some momentum moving forward and heading into next week’s Stadion Classic at UGA, an event that is hosted on his home college course and that he won last year.

“It has been good,” Swafford said. “Being from Tallahassee I have a lot of friends and family, my fiancé and her family, so it has been kind of a relaxing week; a bunch of former Georgia Bulldogs staying at John Lastinger’s house. This is a great event, a special event, just like it is next week. So playing good this week was really key.”

As for what has sparked his turnaround from his bad start? Well, if you ask Swafford, he has gotten out of his own way on the course.

“I really haven’t played that bad,” he said. “I missed the cut in Midland (Texas) by one or two (strokes) and I have been playing a lot better than my scores show. So I have been trying to find that knack to get out of my own way, stay in the present and not look at the past.”

Swafford said he hopes that by getting out of his own way will lead to better results in tournaments, allowing him to earn more money and climb his way into the Web.com Tour’s Top 25 by season’s end, thus earning him that PGA Tour card that narrowly eluded him last year. He hasn’t forgotten that feeling from missing the PGA Tour.

“It was tough, for sure,” he said. “You play so well and miss four of the last cuts, three by one (stroke). It was tough mentally, and I didn’t even really play that bad. I’m still in a good place on the Web.com Tour. I know I am going to get to that next level if I keep working. It is bittersweet, though. It wasn’t fun. It hurt.”

Swafford played his first two rounds with Michael Putnam, who went bogey-free in Thursday’s opening round and followed it with a 4-under in his Friday round to sit second, one-stroke back from Swafford’s 8-under.

“Mike and I just kind of fed off each other,” Swafford said. “He has played really good. We hit the ball about the exact same distance.”

For Putnam, his opening rounds guarantee him an opportunity to play this weekend and improve on his fifth-place finish in last year’s South Georgia Classic.

“The course played tricky today, especially the front nine,” Putnam said, following his Friday round. “A lot of the holes that played down wind yesterday played into the wind today. But yeah, cruised around. It was a solid day.”

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