Minnesota Golf Association

Kucera Shoots 66 to Move Ahead of Holmgren and Israelson After 36 Holes at State Amateur at Somerby

July 16, 2019

 
By Nick Hunter
nick@mngolf.org
 
 
  BYRON, Minn. – Beginning his round on pace to shatter a pair of records Tuesday, Clay Kucera carded eight birdies during his first 11 holes before stumbling on the final hole to post a 6-under par 66 during the second round of the 116th Minnesota Golf Association State Amateur Championship at Byron Golf Club.
 
Flirting with the course record of 64 and the tournament record of 63, set by James McLain at Rochester Golf and Country Club in 1998 and then matched by Alex Uloth during the opening round of the 2016 championship at North Oaks Golf Club, Kucera found himself in trouble for the first time over his last 22 holes, going on to make double-bogey.
 
Kucera began his collegiate career at College of the Canyons in California before transferring to Iowa Western Community College for his sophomore season. He will transfer to Colorado State University-Pueblo this fall. Kucera will take a three-stroke advantage over defending champion Van Holmgren and MGA Players’ Champion Andrew Israelson when the final round begins Wednesday.
 
“When I made the turn [in 7-under 29] and then birdied my tenth to get to 8-under, that’s when I got into some territory I’ve never been in before,” Kucera said of the ferocious start to his second round Tuesday. “That was a little new to me, but I was trying to enjoy it while I could.
 
“[I was] firing on all cylinders. I think I hit 17 greens other than the last, so off the tee was smooth, I wasn’t thinking much and then got out there, got my number and hit it pretty well.”
 
Starting on the 10th tee Kucera carded four consecutive birdies to start the round Tuesday and would sink a 12-footer at the 15th before trickling in his downhill birdie putt from 25-feet at the par-3 17th.
 
After putting his tee shot at the 18th in the middle of the fairway, tournament officials pulled players off the course for a weather delay of nearly two hours.
 
“That was a little frustrating, we were looking for a competitor’s ball and I was going to try to get the shot off instead of trying to come back out and hitting a 235-yard 3-iron,” Kucera said. “I hit a great shot right off the face right at the pin. Hit that putt how I wanted to, but lost a little pace and missed the low side.”
 
“I came out birdie-birdie [after the delay], so it was a good start and just played some boring golf coming in. During the rain delay I tried to stay mellow and was ready when we were told to go back out.”
 
Kucera made his downhill, left-to-right putt on the first hole to get to 9-under for the championship before he would card seven consecutive pars prior to his double-bogey finish at the ninth.
 
Kucera shot a career-low 64 in the first tournament of his collegiate career and this spring posted a 65, the program's second lowest round, during the second round of the Beu Mussatto Invitational in Illinois.
 
“They’ve all been done a couple different ways. I was hoping to get this one to 63 and that was probably what happened at the ninth tee, I missed it left a little bit.”
 
A win Wednesday would be the first of Kucera’s career. Along with a pair of top-5 finishes in college, Kucera’s previous best finish came at the 2016 Class AAA tournament where he finished in fourth place as a junior at Chaska High School.
 
“I need to go out and play some solid golf. This is a really good field with some strong guys chasing me. I need to make pars and not give any shots back,” he said.
 
Defending champion Holmgren hit a rough patch mid-round Tuesday, giving back three strokes, but regained his composure and finished with a pair of late birdies to post an even par round of 72 to remain within striking distance.
 
“I lost a lot of shots and didn’t control the ball too well,” Holmgren said following his round Tuesday. “I scrambled and played pretty scrappy, which is not what I wanted, but it kept me in contention. I stayed calm and said I needed to bring out the shovel and dig my way back in.
 
“It’s tough to carry momentum from one day to another when you’re not playing for 24 hours—that’s what happens when you have a field of 154 players. Then to play three holes at 1-under and then have an 8-foot birdie putt when the horn calls, it’s tough to carry momentum and I wasn’t hitting my shots and didn’t make the strides that I needed to make.”
 
Playing with North Dakota State University teammate Israelson during the first and second rounds, Holmgren will play alongside his fellow Bison yet again during the final round Wednesday with both players three shots off the lead.
 
“I love playing with Andrew. We just battle together and at the end of the day, we know whoever wants it or whoever plays that much harder will take home the trophy,” Holmgren said. “It’s happened before—it’s just good stuff.”
 
“I enjoy every time I go out with Van. Playing with your teammate is always a good time,” Israelson added. “I know how he plays and it’s just calming to be out there with a guy you know and play with all the time.”
 
Starting on the 10th tee Tuesday, Israelson rolled in an eagle putt from 20 feet at the 11th before taking a step back with bogey at the 18th. Quickly regaining his momentum, Israelson carded three consecutive birdies beginning at the 18th hole to move to 5-under for the championship.
 
“I hit a couple good wedges during that stretch and made a couple lengthy putts,” he said. “I’ve been driving the ball poorly this summer, so I knew out here if I want to compete, I need to hit fairways. I’ve been hitting it smart off the tee with club selection.
 
Israelson fell back to 4-under following his bogey at the fourth, but finished with consecutive pars to card a 3-under 69.
 
“I drove the ball really well again today. I could’ve made a few more putts out here. If you’re in the right position, you’ve got a good chance of making any length putt. I just put myself in a couple bad positions and that’s where I made my bogeys.”
 
Minnesota State Junior Boys’ champion Ian Simonich posted a 1-under 71 for the second straight round and will begin the final round in fourth place at 142, while Jesse Larson’s round of 1-over 73 put him at 143 for the championship, six shots off the lead in fifth place.
 
Tuesday’s second round was also highlighted by Nick Haffley’s ace with a 9-iron at the 151-yard 17th hole.
 
The 116th MGA State Amateur Championship concludes Wednesday with final-round tee times scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. at Somerby Golf Club.


 


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