Stress-free opening round puts J.J. Spaun into Rex Hospital Open lead

Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network
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RALEIGH, N.C. – It was a pretty stress-free opening round of play at the 2016 Rex Hospital Open according to leader J.J. Spaun who carded an eight-under par 63 to lead the field at TPC Wakefield Plantation on Thursday.

“Just one of those days when I was hitting it good, driving it good, and putting well,” Spaun said.

“Everything went the way I would have liked it to go. I kept the ball out in front of me today and never had any stressful grinds for par or anything, other than a two-putt. It was a pretty easy round.”

Leaderboard: Round 1

Growing up playing the municipal courses in Los Angeles County like Wilson and Roosevelt as well as a par-3 course in South Pasadena, Spaun got used to playing bumpy greens and not-so-smooth fairways before playing more consistently rolling private clubs.

“I was able to do what I needed to do, find my swing, and groove something into what would make me successful growing up. It was a lot different than your typical country club golf, that’s for sure.”

That experience eventually got him to the collegiate level where he played for the Aztecs of San Diego State and claimed five first-place finishes before embarking on his pro career.

After winning the 2015 Staal Foundation Open on the Mackenzie Tour, and eventually finishing as the leading money winner on PGA Tour Canada’s pro circuit, he earned exempt status onto the Tour this season.

Making five cuts in seven starts heading into the Rex Open, Spaun’s bogey-free round included six birdies and an eagle, and matched a first-round 63 finish at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open back in late March.

Spaun wrestled the tournament lead from mid-day clubhouse leader Ryan Yip whose 64 led until Spaun rolled in his par putt on 18.

“Today was just one of those days where things were kind of clickin’”, he said.

“I was drivin’ it well, hittin’ my irons well, finishin’ up with good putts.”

Late finisher Chris Wilson ended the day with a bogey-free seven-under par 64 and grabbed a share of second place with Yip, while four others (Brady Schnell, Chase Marinell, Grayson Murray, Jason Millard) were tied for fourth place with 66’s.

Spaun hit 13-of-14 fairways and threw darts in getting onto 17-of-18 greens in regulation on a course which he described as playing shorter than during practice-round play.

“Maybe the heat kind of dried some things up,” he pointed out.

“I was just goin’ about my business, not thinking about the end result. When you’re tryin’ to put a good round together, especially taking one low, you gotta stay in the moment – you can’t think ahead and you can’t think in the past.”

After losing the lead at Chitimacha, Spaun’s thinking heading into Friday is different to what he’s done in the past.

“Just tryin’ to stick the game plan, and not be too conservative. It’s nice to be in contention and have the lead at least for one of the rounds.”