Former Gamecock Kok tied for first-round lead at Dunes

broceJohan Kok picked the right site to celebrate his debut in the PGA Professional National Championship. The 2003 University of South Carolina alumnus posted a near-flawless, 5-under-par 67 to match The Dunes Golf & Beach Club competitive record and share the first-round lead in the 47th edition of the showcase event for PGA Professionals.

Kok, PGA general manager at Temple Hills Country Club in Brentwood, Tennessee, had 11 one-putts on The Dunes’ slick Bermuda greens as the Championship made its second visit to the Palmetto State. A few miles away at Grande Dunes Resort Club, Dave McNabb of Newark, Delaware, registered his own 67 that included hitting 17 greens, and making six birdies to offset a single bogey.

The National Championship, featuring a $550,000 purse, is presented by Club Car, Mercedes-Benz and OMEGA. The 312-player field represents 45 states.

Kok, 34, is a native of South Africa, who earned U.S. citizenship in 1999. He earned PGA membership in 2013 after spending a decade trying to make a career as a tour professional, playing in 50 countries worldwide. Five years ago, he changed his career path.

“I made up my mind that it was best to make a career in the golf industry as a PGA member,” said Kok. “This is a chance to play in a major, and it may not happen for me this week after all is said and done, but I’m happy to be here and get that chance.”

Using a 3-wood off the tee for most of the round, Kok combined his course management success to tie the scores of Billy Joe Patton in the 1960 Southern Amateur and Ben Crenshaw in the 1973 PGA Tour Qualifying School. The Senior Tour Championship, conducted at The Dunes from 1994-1999, used shorter yardage when Jay Sigel posted a 63 in 1994.

“I played at The Dunes for the first time 2½ years ago before my brother’s bachelor party. I found it pretty hard and struggled around here,” said Kok. “I’m obviously very pleased with a good round today. I really like the new greens with the Champion Bermuda grass. You just have to play less break.”

Jamie Broce of Ottawa Hills, Ohio, and Ryan Helminen of Menasha, Wisconsin, are a stroke back at 68. Broce and Helminen were the only competitors to play a bogey-free round. Past National Champion Bob Sowards of Dublin, Ohio, led a 10-player contingent at 70.

Defending Champion Rod Perry of Port Orange, Florida, was at even-par 72, while Karen Paolozzi of Roswell, Georgia, the lone woman PGA member in the field, opened with a 75 at Grande Dunes.

McNabb, PGA head professional at Applebrook Golf Club in Malvern, Pennsylvania, needed just 29 putts, closing with birdies on three of his final four holes.

“I feel today that I took advantage of a fantastic golf course that was set up to score,” said McNabb, 48, whose tie for ninth last year snapped a frustrating streak of four missed cuts in his previous Championship trips. “Conditions were ideal. I’m looking forward to heading to The Dunes tomorrow and trying to do the same. You have to be in the right spot on the greens. You can get some putts that go up and over the slope, and can get away from you. You also have to be in the right position on the fairways.”

Broce, the men’s golf coach at the University of Toledo, is making his second straight National Championship appearance.

“I hit it well all day and missed very few greens,” he said. “It felt great to get it up and down on that last hole (the par-3 9th). It’s almost impossible to keep the ball on that green. The greens overall were more receptive early this morning. You could hit shots and get them close to give yourself birdie opportunities. The rain that’s fallen over the past couple of days has helped a lot.”

Helminen is making his seventh straight Championship visit.

“We got lucky today with the wind. It blew pretty hard in the afternoon during practice rounds, so we were fortunate,” said Helminen, a PGA teaching professional at Ridgeway Country Club in Neenan, Wisconsin. “The greens are also softer from the rain and my speed control on them was very good.”

Following the first 36 holes, the field will be reduced for the first time to the low 90 scorers and those tied for 90th place.

After 54 holes, the field will be trimmed to the low 70 scorers and ties. Those making the 36-hole cut will compete in the final two rounds at The Dunes Golf & Beach Club.

The low 20 scorers in the PGA Professional National Championship will advance to the 96th PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky.

Scotland’s Catriona Matthew had 66 on Sunday, tying for 11th place. Like Wie, she had an eagle on No. 10.

Photo by Montana Pritchard, PGA

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