Jul 18, 2015

LONG GROVE, Ill. – David Lawrence is one of the countless players with enough game to play in the big leagues of golf who has yet to have the opportunity to play for millions.

Monday, he may have moved a step closer.

Lawrence, a 25-year-old from Moline, scored a career low 9-under-par 62 at Royal Melbourne Country Club, simultaneously setting records for the course and a single round of the Illinois Open.

His afternoon delight in the opening round of the 66th edition pushed him four strokes ahead of Glen Ellyn’s Matt Slowinski, Deerfield’s Vince India, and Northbrook amateur Nick Hardy. Their 66s look positively bloated in comparison.

Lawrence, an Eastern Illinois graduate, is mostly living off mini-tour income while he counts the days toward the next PGA Tour qualifying tournament. That means grinding out rounds on Florida’s Moonlight Tour and in picture postcard outposts as Vermillion, South Dakota.

He’d managed a 29 over the winter, a suggestion that the mental coaching from Darin Hoff is paying off. Monday’s 62 on the 6,701-yard Greg Norman-designed layout was more than a suggestion. It was proof.

“I’ve always had a hard time keeping the momentum going,” Lawrence said. “He’s taught me to reset during a round.” He punched the reset button early and often, the first time soon after his birdie on the par-3 10th, his first hole.

“It’s good to put a two on your card early,” Lawrence said of his 8-foot uphill putt.

Lawrence splashed 10 birdies across his card, sullied by only one bogey on the par-4 12th hole.

“I had two lip-outs and a couple of putts that could have fallen,” Lawrence said.

He birdied his first two holes, then the 14th through 18th to make the turn in 6-under 30, and added three more birdies in the middle of the front nine. No birdie putt was longer than 15 feet, indicating great accuracy with his approach shots.

Lawrence’s marvelous score erased the Illinois Open record of 64 set by Dusti Watson at Royal Fox Country Club in 1994 and matched by Scott Moore at the Glen Club in 2003. It also knocked off, by four strokes, the Royal Melbourne mark of 66.

The last time a course record in the Chicago area was broken by four strokes, the culprit was Robert Gamez, whose 64 on Cog Hill’s Dubsdread layout during the 1989 U.S. Public Links Championship erased a collection of 68s. Soon after, he was on the PGA Tour.

Earlier, Slowinski’s day on the golf course did not start propitiously.

“You never feel good hitting a provisional on the first hole,” Slowinski said of his opening drive at Royal Melbourne, which turned left and found driveway rather than fairway.

The day ended delightfully, with a 125-yard pitch for an eagle 2 on the 432-yard home hole. Slowinski’s deuce brought him in with a 5-under-par 66, good for a share of the lead in the expanded field of 258 competitors until Lawrence barged in.

He shared the lead with Hardy, who graduated from Glenbrook North 14 months ago and since then has played a key role in Illinois’ winning the Big Ten championship, its semifinalist finish in the NCAA Championship, and has made the cut in the U.S. Open. Hardy birdied four of his first five holes on Monday before coming back to earth and going around Royal Melbourne in 1-under figures the rest of the round.

“The experiences have been building up and the confidence has been growing,” Hardy said while hanging out at a luncheon table with fellow Fighting Illini player Alex Burge, who opened with a 75 at Royal Melbourne, and coach Mike Small, who is among those eight strokes back after a 1-under 70 at Royal Melbourne.

Slowinski, India and Hardy, at 5-under 66, would have been the tri-leaders in most circumstances. There are three players at 3-under, with amateur Philip Arouca and professional Scott Cahill scoring 68 at par-71 Royal Melbourne, with Casey Pyne posting a 69 at par-72 Hawthorn Woods Country Club, the other site for the first two rounds of this expanded-field Illinois Open. There are 258 players in the field, 132 at Royal Melbourne and 126 at Hawthorn Woods, with the field exchanging sites on Tuesday. The low 70 and ties will advance to Wednesday’s final round at Royal Melbourne.

“It’s nice to get more people in the field,” Slowinski said. “I think it’s just going to make the event better and build upon it from year to year.”

To Solwinski, the key to his round was a slight change in his putting stance. Putts rolled truer, and disappeared more often. After the opening bogey, he birdied the second, fourth and sixth holes to go out in 2-under 33, followed by a birdie on the par-3 10th. A string of pars ended with the hole-out at the last.

“I pushed it a little to the right, but it caught the slope and went in,” Slowinski said of his pured gap wedge.

Brad Hopfinger, the 2014 champion, is on the Tour and was unable to defend his title.

Dustin Korte of downstate Metropolis, who tied for second and was low amateur two years ago, was disqualified on Monday for carrying his own bag. Illinois Open rules require either a caddie or a cart.