NEW BRITAIN - Nick Hudyma would like nothing more than to add a second title to his collection this season. He certainly made sure to put himself in position to do so Sunday.
Despite a tough finish that saw him shoot a 4-over over his final nine holes in the opening round of the 88th Herald City Championship, the defending Stanley Golf Course club champion’s strong start ensured him a share of the lead heading into next weekend’s final round.
Not wanting to play himself out of the tournament early, Hudyma stuck to a simple approach, and over his first nine holes bogeyed only twice and birdied three times, including on the par-5 ninth. Hudyma finished his round with a 74.
“This is my favorite [tournament],” Hudyma said. “This is the one I would like to win. I’m definitely capable of winning it. It’s just a matter of executing. I kind of know how [Phil] Mickelson feels about the U.S. Open. I’ve been close a couple of times and I think I got myself in a good position and hopefully next week will be a little different [than in years past].”
Joining him at the top of the leaderboard was Mike Strong, who also shot a 74, creating a tie for next Sunday. Strong finished with an eagle and two birdies, but was hurt by two bogeys over two of his final three holes of the day to finish his back nine at 5-over.
They hold a one-shot lead over Justin Henry and Nate Thiede on a day when the course was playing a little softer due to the heavy amount of rain from the night before.
“The golf course is in great shape,” said Kyle Hedstrom, head golf professional at Stanley Golf Course. “Kevin DeVaux, our superintendent, and his staff did a really nice job in preparation with our championship season coming up.”
After a slow start, Henry, who played in the B-flight a year ago, birdied his first two holes on the back nine before bogeying two of his final three holes as well.
“If you told me at the start of the day I’d be a stroke off [the lead], I’d be happy, so I’ll take that,” Henry said. “I left some out there. I didn’t putt well. I made some, but missed a bunch of makeable ones and I didn’t finish strong at all. But I’m in a good spot.”
Defending champion Vaughn Gaither capped off his first round with a 79 and, like Henry, had issues putting throughout his round despite hitting 13 of 18 greens. He finished with six bogeys and a double bogey on the first hole.
“I didn’t really make too many mistakes out there today, expect that first hole,” Gaither said. “It was just one of those days. I was playing well and everything was going my way expect for the ball falling in the hole.”
Even with the course playing a little bit differently than usual, the top 10 were separated by eight strokes, with seven within five of one another.
The key for Hudyma to finish in the lead again after the final round is to do what eluded so many others on Sunday - have the short game working.
“[I have to] make a few putts when they count,” Hudyma said. “That’s what you gotta do. Whoever’s putting better has a chance.”
Steve Paulin shot an 84 to lead the B-flight, putting him just outside the top 10 overall. Bob Zadrozny leads in C-flight after an 81, while Joe Diorio shot an 86 to lead D-flight.
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org