Following a gnarly early morning thunderstorm, Sylas Elliott had his doubts about the first round of the Elks Junior County Championship going on as planned.
By the time the Cullman High No. 1 waited out an hour delay and put the finishing touches on 18 holes Wednesday afternoon at the Cullman Golf Course, though, he sure was glad it did.
Nearly two weeks removed from a win at the Buck Shear Memorial Tournament, Elliott fired a solid 5-under 67 on the very same course, good for a three-shot lead over Cold Springs’ standout Layne Rice for the 17- to 18-year-old title.
“I played good, played real good, especially in the conditions,” Elliott said. “It wasn’t as wet as I thought the course was going to be. It seemed pretty dry for as much rain as we got.”
Rain or shine, the Bearcat senior and Wallace State commit appeared to be in full control as he completed his opening round.
After punching in a birdie putt on No. 15 to move to 5-under, Eliott dropped a shot on the par-3 16th. He picked it right back up in a hurry, however, fighting off the heavy rain that started falling again to stick his approach on No. 17. Moments later, Elliott drained his final birdie of the day.
“I putted very well,” he said. “I just put the ball fairly close to the pin and hit as many greens as possible.”
Even in a familiar position at the front of a tournament, Elliott isn’t ready to notch another victory just yet. Not with one round left to play. And especially not with Rice eager to make a move just three strokes back.
“I’m just going to go out there and play steady,” Elliott said. “Just hang around par and throw in a few birdies here and there. I’ll play my game and let him play his.”
For most of Rice’s round, his game was just as sharp as Elliott’s.
The Cold Springs’ No. 1 cruised to a 3-under total through 15 holes before going bogey, bogey on Nos. 16 and 17 to cool his run. Rice was able to right the ship with a birdie on the par-5 18th, though, keeping him in striking distance of his fellow Wallace State commit.
“I feel pretty good that I’m only three behind,” he said. “I’m going to have to play really good tomorrow and make up a few shots out there. There are a few from today I wish I had back.”
Like Elliott, Rice thought the morning’s inclement weather would halt play altogether. He ended up enjoying the aftermath, however, and even indicated it might’ve helped him in the end.
“It played fairly easy today,” Rice said of the course conditions. “It was really damp and easy to get the ball to stop on the greens.”
Rounding out the remaining 17- to 18-year-old competitors were Colby Sandlin and Jacob McCurry, 74; Lee Mattox, 77; Trevor Barber, 83; and Penn Kennedy, 92.
Cullman’s Conner Stevens held a four-shot lead in the 15- to 16-year-old group after carding a 2-over 74. Trailing Stevens were Noah Phillips, 78; Lindsey Rogers, 84; Luke Wilson, 85; Cole Pearson, 87; and Jacob Hyatt, 107.
Holden Atchison (60) and Curt Wilson (61) were neck and neck for the 11- to 12-year-old crown. Each played nine holes.
The local Elks lodge has sponsored the event for the better part of a decade, with Shad Adams serving as the junior golf representative for at least half of it.
“The Elks think it’s very important,” he said of putting on the tournament each year. “We’re just trying to bring up the next generation of golfers, not just introduction to the game but get them used to stroke play.
“It’s awesome to watch these kids coming up. I’ve known several of these guys, Sylas and Layne, since they were 11 or 12, and I’ve got to see their game evolve into what it is now. I’m a golfer myself, but not like what they are. They’re just really good kids, and I like to watch get better and better every year.”
Adams said he doesn’t expect the partnership between the Elks and the Cullman Golf Course to end anytime soon.
“We will continue to sponsor the tournament, especially if I have anything to do with it, every year,” he said. “As long as the Elks lodge and the volunteers can help me do what I need them to do, then we’re good.”
Tee times for today’s second round will begin at 8 a.m., with the leaders expected to take off sometime around 8:30 a.m.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at email@example.com.