Patrick Drake is in prime position to win the Buck Shear Memorial Tournament for a third time after shooting a 7-under 65 Saturday at the Cullman Golf Course.
After one round, the former Cullman High and Wallace State golfer is two shots ahead of Blaise Wilson (67) and three in front of Sylas Elliott (68). Wilson, a Bearcat graduate, now plays for UNA, while Elliott currently golfs for the Cats.
“I’ve played this course from junior golf on,” said Drake, who previously won the event in 2006 and 2010. “It kind of fits my game. I’ve gotten so familiar with it over the years that I guess it’s become a second home course to me.”
From his drives to his iron play to his putts, Drake said he was pleased with every aspect of his game in the opening 18 holes. What didn’t make his day — or the rest of the field’s, for that matter — any easier was the sweltering heat, which easily surpassed triple-digits by early afternoon.
“That made it pretty tough,” Drake said. “You had to make sure you had your fluids in today. That heat is probably one of the hottest times I’ve had on the golf course.”
Ches Harris, the course’s director of golf, said he and his staff did their best to provide the 64 competitors — a noticeable increase from last year’s 47 — with those fluids by setting up multiple water coolers and beverage stations along the way. Despite the recent surge in temperatures, he felt the course was in tip-top shape for the weekend tournament.
“Considering how hot it’s been, they’ve got the course in great condition,” Harris said. “I was definitely excited to see the number of players go up.”
This year marks the 30th running of the annual tournament, which was originally called the Cullman County Championship. It was eventually renamed, though, to commemorate the late Buck Shear, who played a large role in bringing golf to the area.
Shear’s son, Buddy, and grandson, Joey, were among Saturday’s participants. Buddy has played in all 30 tournaments, but Joey pointed out this was only his second, jokingly adding it was also only his second time out on the golf course this year.
Buddy said the event generally attracts quite a few players who don’t always compete in tourneys simply because they want to show respect to Buck.
“I remember I’d come out with dad, drive the cart and watch the old-timers he used to play with,” Buddy said. “My dad influenced a lot of people around here who still play golf.”
The tournament was split into six flights following Round 1. In addition to Drake, Wilson and Elliott, the remaining five players making up the “Championship A” flight are Johnathan Henderson (69), as well as Caleb Neighbors, Kevin Byrd, Jake Tucker and Bill Griffin, who all carded 70s.
The “Championship B” flight consists of Terry Kent and J.J. Adams (72); Kyle Pressley, Hunter Roberts, Keith Drake, Blake Woo and Trey Hanvey (73); Bob Kurtz (74); and Curtis Alexander, Greg Aderhold and Jake Miller (75).
Drake knows what needs to be done if he wants to walk away with a third title.
“I’ve got to go out and hit the ball like I did today and make the putts,” he said. “I’ve got to make birdies and go out and play my own game.”
Harris scheduled today’s opening tee time for 8 a.m. in order to beat the heat. The final foursome of Drake, Wilson, Elliott and Henderson will tee off shortly after 10 a.m.
Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.