After playing professional golf for about 3 ½ years on the mini-tours including a stint on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica, Malvern’s Cole Willcox is back in his home area in more or less a state of limbo.
He has applied for amateur reinstatement and no longer can play in professional events, but until he is officially reinstated as an amateur, those tournaments are out of his reach, too.
So he teed it up Monday at Waynesborough Country Club in the first round of the 103rd Pennsylvania Open -- “the only tournament I can play in,” he said -- and carded six birdies, five of them coming in a nine-hole stretch, in a 4-under-par 67 that gave him a 1-stroke lead after 18 holes of the 54-hole event.
“I came close here last year, had some decent finishes,” said Willcox, 31, who tied for second place in 2016 and finished alone in second last year. “Maybe there’s less pressure now because I’m not competing for my job. Honestly, it’s just the same. Maybe there’s a little less pressure but at the same time, you’re just going out to play some golf.”
Willcox, a graduate of Malvern Prep and the University of Virginia who was the 2008 Philadelphia Amateur runner-up, held the early lead over Pittsburgh amateur Jack Katarincic, a Miami of Ohio senior who fired a 68.
Five players, including professionals Brian Bergstol of Bangor, Jordan Eck of Williamsport, Craig Hornberger of Lancaster, and Kevin Shields of Pittsburgh, had a 69. Huntingdon Valley’s Brian Isztwan, the only amateur in the group, fired a 30 on his second nine, the front nine at Waynesborough.
Willcox’s birdie binge began at the par-5 seventh, where he hit his second shot into a greenside bunker, blasted out and drained a seven-footer. He also birdied 10, 11, 13 and 15, almost holing out a sand wedge at No. 13 from 116 yards out and tapping in. His longest putt in the run was a 20-foot “downhill left to right putt” at the 11th.
“I drove it really well for the most part, hit a lot of greens,” he said. “I might have only missed one green today so I played pretty well, kept it in position and rolled in a couple of putts.”
Katarincic was 1 under par through 13 but finally saw some putts go in late, carding birdies at the 14th, 15th and 17th holes.