VALDOSTA — Could the South Georgia Classic be headed for a classic underdog upset?
Jason Kokrak and Michael Putnam sure hope so.
Kokrak and Putnam are near the top of the leaderboard after two rounds of the South Georgia Classic. Kokrak is alone in second at 9-under, two shots behind leader David Hearn. Putnam is tied for third at 7-under.
Both golfers are in great position, considering without a sponsor’s exemption and without someone dropping out they’d be some where else this week.
Kokrak was given a sponsor’s exemption when he won the Cabarrus Classic in North Carolina, an eGolf Tour event, on March 20.
“This is my first time here,” Kokrak said. “I tried to Monday qualify last year and missed by two shots. I knew I was playing here (after winning the Cabarrus Classic). I knew it was a long golf course and it would and it would suit me well. I hit the ball fairly long, and I just go about my business and play the golf course the way I play. I don’t try to do anything outside of what I know I can do, and I play to my strengths.”
Kokrak is one of the players Kinderlou Forest sets up well for. The 24-year-old is driving the ball an average of 305 yards, and while he’s only hitting 50 percent of his fairways, he’s hitting it past trouble. Unlike a lot of players, he’s able to hit short irons and wedges into the greens which allows him to get it close to the pin.
“If I hit a good solid drive I’m definitely hitting some where with a wedge,” Kokrak said.
Maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise Kokrak is near the lead. He was an honorable mention All-American at Xavier and won the Atlantic 10 conference tournament twice.
He played in the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont, and the following week he made the cut at a Nationwide Tour event in Cleveland after shooting a 66 in the second round. The South Georgia Classic is his first Nationwide Tour event since Cleveland three years ago.
“I’ve been hitting the ball well all year,” Kokrak said. “I came in here expecting to play well and with a lot of confidence. You have to come out here with confidence or you’re going to get lapped. Hearn is playing well, but hopefully I can go out there and put up another good round (Saturday).”
Kokrak plans to play more eGolf Tour events this year and qualify for Nationwide events if money allows. He wants to earn his way onto the Nationwide Tour next year. If he pulls off a win this year he will be instantly promoted to the Nationwide Tour for the remainder of 2010 and all of 2011.
“I’d love to get out here and play with these guys week in and week out,” Kokrak said. “I think I’d become a better player.”
While Kokrak has known for a while he’d be playing the South Georgia Classic, Putnam didn’t know until Tuesday he’d be playing. He is an alternate for a golfer in the original field who dropped out.
Putnam has only played in two other Nationwide Events this year, and he missed the cut both times. Coming into Thursday’s round his only goal was a top 25 finish so he could take home a paycheck.
“I’ll reassess that after (Friday) and see where I am,” Putnam said. “Obviously I’m not going to be playing for second on the weekend. I have a good chance going into the weekend and that’s all I can ask for. I haven’t had that chance in a while. It’s nice.”
Putnam is averaging 294.8 yards off the tee. He said people tell him Kinderlou Forest sets up well for him because he hits it a long way, but he doesn’t see it that way. He called Kinderlou a “second-shot” course and said the drive doesn’t really matter.
“You can’t force anything on this course,” Putnam said. “You have six and seven irons into the holes. It’s not like you can take dead aim at a pin that you usually take dead aim at with a wedge. It’s a course you can’t do that. Lots of greens in regulations and two-putts.”
While some golfers have been frustrated at missing 20 foot putt after 20 foot putt, Putnam has been steady. After double bogeying his first hole of the tournament, he’s only made two bogeys over his last 35 holes. He dropped in putts of 30 feet, 20 feet and 15 feet on Friday and reached a pair of par 5s in two that led to birdies.
“It was a good round,” Putnam said. “The course is starting to dry out a little bit and the wind is picking up. It’s going to be a tough course this weekend.”
Kokrak tees off Saturday in the final pairing with Hearn at 12:55 p.m. Putnam is in the second to last pairing with Tag Ridings. They tee off at 12:45 p.m.