KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – On the toughest holes on the Ocean Course, Kelly Mitchum played his best.
And he needed to.
Already concerned about the extensive length set up for the golf course in his fourth appearance at the PGA Championship, Pinehurst professional Kelly Mitchum at least had the honor of opening golf’s fourth major championship of the season with its very first tee shot early Thursday morning.
“I had the first one in the air today,” Mitchum said. “I guess I got the PGA Championship kicked off.”
That tee shot wasn’t a bad one, though it was directly into the sun and at the last moment kicked into the right edge of the waste bunker. Mitchum bogeyed the first hole, one of just two par-4s on the entire 7,676-yard layout playing under 400 yards. He added a birdie to get back to even par on the shortest par-4 -- the 390-yard third hole.
But even with uncharacteristically calm winds, the demanding Ocean Course, soaked by three consecutive days of intermittent morning and afternoon thunderstorms, played every bit as long as Mitchum expected. He carded a 4-over 76 that landed him near the bottom of the leaderboard as the afternoon wave of tee times began in the first round.
Still, Mitchum will take it.
“Really, I had perfect conditions,” he said. “The wind wasn’t too bad.
“I felt like I played pretty well. It’s just so hard out there. I know the scores may not look like it, but honestly, I played well. I let a couple of opportunities slip away, a couple of places I where I made bogey and shouldn’t have, but I hung in there pretty good.”
After his birdie, Mitchum made five bogeys in a stretch of 10 holes to fall to 5 over. That included three dropped shots in a span of four holes to start the back nine. The yardages for those holes? Try 447, 593, 412 and 497.
“When I walked off 13 I wasn’t feeling so good, but I hung in there,” said Mitchum, 41, who is the lead golf instructor at the Pinehurst Resort Golf Academy and starred at N.C. State. “I went to 14 and hit a bad tee shot, but I made a great up and down there, and then I made a nice birdie on 16.”
Mitchum salvaged his round late on what are considered among the most difficult finishing six holes in championship golf.
After pars at the 238-yard par-3 14th and the 15th, he made his second birdie of the day on the 581-yard par-5 16th after hitting a wedge to tap-in distance to get back to 4 over. That’s where he finished – ahead of 2010 PGA Champion Martin Kaymer (79), Paul Casey (79) and 2009 U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover (77), among others – after two solid pars to complete his round.
“It was good to finish strong,” he said.
Mitchum will tee off at 12:30 p.m. for Friday’s second round, and isn’t giving up on making a run at the weekend.
“I’ll see what the golf course gives me,” he said. “Who knows what the wind will be like in the afternoon. That’s the big difference-maker. If the wind picks up, it will be really, really hard.”
Mitchum’s definitely looking forward to the second round – even if he won’t get to start play a second time.
“I’ll get to sleep in past 5 in the morning,” he quipped, referring to his tournament-starting 7:20 a.m. tee time on Thursday. “That will be nice.”
Mitchum qualified for his fourth berth at the PGA after tying for second in June’s PGA Professional National Championship at Black Horse Bayonet Golf Club in Seaside, Calif. Mitchum finished behind winner Matt Dobyns, who broke Sam Snead’s scoring record in the tournament. On Thursday, Dobyns shot 9-over 81.