Austin Smotherman prepped for the Butterfield Bermuda Championship by playing in a member-guest last week. Arjun Atwal played in his home club’s weekly Friday game. It may not sound like the typical way to get ready for a PGA Tour event but there’s no arguing with their results. On a day when the wind off the Atlantic Ocean decided to lay down and the conditions were ripe for scoring, Smotherman shot a career-low 9-under 62 at Port Royal Golf Course in Southampton, Bermuda, to share the first-round lead with rookie Harrison Endycott, who bogeyed his first two holes but rallied with two eagles. They are a stroke better than six golfers, including Atwal, who wasn’t even in the field when he woke up Thursday morning, and Adam Schenk, who drove to the airport without his clubs and had to re-book his flight.
“We got blessed today with a beautiful day on the island,” said Smotherman.
The 28-year-old second year pro played in the second group out in the morning and took advantage of soft, smooth greens. He needed just 23 putts and said the longest one he made was no more than 13 feet on Thursday. Last week, he played in the member-guest at his home course in Dallas, Trinity Forest, which formerly hosted the PGA Tour’s AT&T Byron Nelson.
“Shout-out for The Crony,” Smotherman said of the member-guest tournament. “We had our greens rolling maybe 13 and it blew 25, 30 all weekend. I was thinking I was coming here, getting these conditions, it’s almost the opposite of what I just had. I was like, ‘Come on, where’s the wind?’ Like we were just practicing that.”
Smotherman, who has been working hard on his wedge game, said his ballstriking with his short irons was dialed in. That’s been the part of his game that has held him back.
“How do we find three shots a tournament and it’s some of these wedges,” he explained. “I was missing these wedges short-sided.”
Smotherman last made headlines when he double-bogeyed his final hole of the Wyndham Championship to miss the cut and ended up losing his Tour card for this season. But he received a reprieve when several players defected to LIV Golf, making him fully-exempt this season. How did it feel to shoot his career low?
“Good, let’s go better tomorrow, why not,” he said. “We’ve still got room.”
Butterfield Bermuda: Full leaderboard
Arjun Atwal sneaks into field, makes the most of opportunity
Arjun Atwal of India plays his shot from the tenth tee during the first round of the Butterfield Bermuda Championship at Port Royal Golf Course on October 27, 2022 in Southampton, . (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Atwal, winner of the 2010 Wyndham Championship, hadn’t touched a club in the last three months since his father died in India until he played last Friday, using a golf cart, in a Scotch game at Isleworth Country Club in Windermere, Florida. As first alternate, he arrived at the course around 7:30, went and hit some wedges and was eating breakfast when his caddie texted him around 8:45 that that they might have a tee time at 9:10. He abandoned his food and went to hit some drivers. He got into the field when Nicholas Lindheim withdrew before the round with a back injury.
“I don’t know who that is, but thank you, Nicholas,” said Atwal, who started with three straights birdies and made nine on the day.
Atwal also had a stellar putting round and credited it to his return to an old friend.
“This is the way I used to putt,” he said. “I brought my old putter with me, my Craz E, and I haven’t putted all that well with it even in the last few years whenever I brought it out, but today just got my old feels back. I think I led the Tour in ’05 in putting and this was the putter that I putted with, and also when I won the Wyndham was this putter… Today I just felt my old feels back and I started seeing my lines and it was really fun.”
The 49-year-old Atwal is biding his time until his birthday in March when he’ll become eligible for PGA Tour Champions, and playing with a heavy heart after mourning the passing of his father.
“The game’s just a game. I take it for what it is now, you know, and I have nothing to prove to anybody,” he said. “I’ve won out here, I’ve won on the European Tour, the Asian Tour and I’m looking forward to the ‘50 tour’ next year after March, that will be fun.”
Harry Higgs attempting to get off the 'struggle bus'
Harry Higgs plays his shot from the first tee during the first round of the 2022 Butterfield Bermuda Championship at Port Royal Golf Course. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Harry Higgs needed a round like he had on Thursday morning.
The 30-year-old SMU grad, who had missed four of his last five cuts and hasn’t recorded a top-10 finish in over a year, fired a bogey-free 7-under 64 at Port Royal.
“I’ve been struggling with my golf game, been struggling with missing it left,” he said. “I didn’t hit any shots left of the target except for one and that makes me really happy.”
Higgs called it an “easy day,” the type where he was never between clubs and the putts were falling. He finished T-14 at the Masters in April and said he was feeling good about his game.
“None of us ever think that that’s going to stop,” Higgs said. “I legitimately have not played good golf since the Masters in April, and Lord knows why.”
Well, he has a bit of an idea, blaming some of it on a poor attitude and noting he has a history of not dealing well with success. As for his swing, he added, “I don’t think we have enough time to figure that out. The thing that we’ve clued in on is just rotate, rotate more,” he said. “We’ve tried to tackle this in many different ways and I have a few like cheat codes, if you will, that I just now start to trust as well, which is huge.”
Higgs also gave a shout out to his girlfriend, Kailee Kuehn, who was celebrating her 30th birthday.
“I’m missing it which is why I shot 7 under and I didn’t make a bogey today. We’ll give her all the praise,” he said. “Fun to get in the mix. It’s very early on, but fun to at least like look at your name close to the top of the leaderboard again for the first time in a long time.”
Harrison Endycott goes low after inauspicious start
Harrison Endycott of Australia plays his shot from the tenth tee during the first round of the 2022 Butterfield Bermuda Championship at Port Royal Golf Course. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
After Endycott made bogeys at his first two holes of the day, Nos. 10 and 11, the rookie, who is making just his fourth career Tour start, righted the ship in impressive fashion.
“I said I think it’s time to get on a bit of a heater now,” Endycott said.
Did he ever. The 26-year-old Australian reeled off four straight birdies, settled for a par, and then made the first of two eagles on the day at 17.
“I hit an awesome 3-wood into 17 today. I was right in between clubs. I didn’t really want to take driver off that tee, it was a narrow chute for me, so I hit 3-wood off the tee. And 2-iron was just not going to get all the way back to that flag and I had to hit a nice little hold-up cut 3-wood, and I think I hit it to about nine feet or eight feet, I hit a beautiful shot there,” he said.
The second eagle was set up bu a 5-iron approach at No. 7.
“Just didn’t really leave the flagstick,” he said. “It was great, I can’t remember the last time I had a couple eagles, two in a round, and I just hit some really good quality shots out there.”
Schenk's shank on golf bag
Adam Schenk plays his shot from the tenth tee during the first round of the 2022 Butterfield Bermuda Championship at Port Royal Golf Course. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Schenk, 30, had his golf bag packed in the garage when he stopped off to say goodbye to his dog, Bunker. Then he walked past the clubs and drove to the airport.
Realizing his mistake, Schenk slammed the trunk and drove back home. He had to fly to Boston, stayed overnight and caught a direct flight.
“I don’t think I would have shot this well in the first round if I would have gotten here on Wednesday afternoon,” Schenk said.
Alls well that ended well and Schenk went out and shot a bogey-free 8-under 63 on Thursday and is tied for third. It marked his ninth consecutive round of par or better this season. He credited his low round Thursday to having one of the best putting rounds of his career.
“Whatever putt I had like I felt I should have made, I did,” he said.