By Cam Huffman
Those who have followed the BNI Memorial Golf Tournament in the past won’t have any problem reading the names at the top of the leaderboard for this year’s event. Most of them are very familiar.
Brandon Reece, who won back-to-back BNI titles in 2006 and 2007, and Michael Powers, who finished third in last year’s BNI, held the lead after the first round of the 54-hole tournament Saturday, with familiar names like Mike Mays, Derek Brooks and Alan Wharton just a few strokes back.
Reece, an Allstate agent in Raleigh, N.C., carded his 68 at The Brier Patch Golf Links, while Powers found his 68 at Grandview Country Club. The co-leaders were two strokes clear of Davy Jude, who shot a 70 at Brier Patch Saturday, and three ahead of Brandon Waters, Adam Kemlock and Mays, a six-time champion, who finished at 1-under-par with 71s.
Wharton, the 2008 champion, Brooks, a young golf star who’s the son of former WVU basketball star Herbie Brooks, and four-time BNI champion Greg McGraw were part of a group of seven golfers who carded even-par rounds of 72 on the first 18 holes of the 33rd annual BNI, played this year in memory of Andy Holland and sponsored by First Community Bank, with assistance from Lewis Automotive.
The golfers will switch courses for today’s second round, with Monday’s championship round played on The Cobb Course at The Resort at Glade Springs.
Reece was part of the first group to tee off Saturday morning at Brier Patch — part of the BNI lineup again after the event was played at Pipestem for several years — and he got off to a strong start, after losing in a playoff to Bosten Miller last July.
“I left a couple putts out there, but I was pretty happy with the round,” said Reece, who grew up just a couple miles from Brier Patch and said he’s never seen the greens in better shape. “I made a few birdies on the back, and my only bogey came on No. 4.
“It was nice to get out there early and be done by 12:30.”
Reece will be out early again this morning at Grandview, and he’s looking just to stay out of trouble.
“You’re not going to win it on the first or second day, but you have to make sure you don’t lose it,” he said. “Typically I play Brier Patch and Pipestem a little better (than Grandview), but I don’t really know why. It’s a little more open, but the wind can pick up more.
“I’m just going to try to plug along and hit as many greens as I can.”
Powers, who also leads Mays in the battle for the low score in the Senior Division, played a nearly mistake-free round. He carded five birdies and only one bogey during his round — making up for the mistake on No. 16 with a birdie on the next hole.
“I kept it out of trouble and kept it in the fairway,” said Powers, who lives in Huntington and works for the Huntington Housing Authority. “It was just about staying out of trouble and having a good round.
“I wanted to birdie all the par-5s, and I was able to do that.”
Powers has been playing in the BNI since 2004. He was led to the tournament by a friend, Marsh Fork native Rob Henderson.
“It’s a blast,” said Powers, who has played on the senior circuit in the West Virginia Golf Association. “We love it.”
Powers said he played a practice round at Brier Patch a month ago, and he’s looking forward to his round there today.
“It was in great shape,” he said. “We’re looking forward to it. You have to hit the ball straighter over there. It’s a much tighter golf course. You have to position your ball a little better.
“I feel pretty good about (my score). We’ll see what Brier Patch does (today).”
Tee times today begin at 7:30 a.m., at both courses.
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