DOTHAN, Alabama — An amateur and three professionals fired 6-under 66s Tuesday in the opening round of the third PGA TOUR Canada Qualifying Tournament to take a share of the 18-hole lead. Pros Roy Cootes, Patrick Moriarty and Stephen Franken joined current Sacramento State player Riley Bell at the top of the leaderboard as they take a one-shot advantage over a trio of players—Drew Mathers, Connor Schmidt and Greg Edwards. An additional seven players are two strokes back.
Last week, Bell was in his native California for a college tournament, and following the event in Palm Desert, he traveled cross-country and made his first official round at RTJ Golf Trail at Highland Oaks an impressive one. Bell’s 66 came with only one bogey and seven birdies. His lone bogey was on his second hole, when he missed the green in regulation and was unable to get up and down for par. Bell did have a stretch of four birdies in a row, beginning at No. 4, his 13th hole of the day, while his other birdies came at Nos. 9, 14 and 16.
None of those birdies were of the memorable variety, he noted. “I didn’t make too many (long) putts but did take advantage of two of the par-5s,” he explained. Those par-5 birdies were at the seventh and the ninth. Bell closed his round with a three-foot birdie putt on No. 9.
Cootes made it to 8-under before a bogey-bogey finish dropped him back to 6-under. “I hit pretty much every shot how I wanted to on the front nine, and on the back nine too,” he said, acknowledging his less-than-desirable two-hole close that didn’t exactly dampen his enthusiasm. “This course is great. The greens are great,” he said.
Moriarty is looking to earn PGA TOUR Canada membership for the second time. He first played on the Tour in 2019, making seven appearances and getting to the weekend once. He also made a cut in his PGA TOUR Canada debut, in 2018. The highlight of his round Tuesday was an eagle at the par-5 seventh, where he rolled in an eight-foot putt. He missed taking the outright lead when he bogeyed his final hole of the day.
Franken was the last of the quartet to take his spot at the top of the leaderboard. He was also the only one of the four without a bogey on his card. Franken’s first five birdies came at Nos. 4, 7, 10, 14 and 15. He then closed with a flourish, pouring in a birdie on No. 18.
Franken has played in 12 PGA TOUR Canada tournaments, his only full season coming in 2019. A year ago, he had two PGA TOUR Canada appearances, missing the cut in both.
Did you know Roy Cootes played his rookie professional season on PGA TOUR Canada but was unable to keep his card? Cootes stayed occupied after that, looking for as many playing opportunities as he could in both 2020 and 2021 in the midst of the global pandemic. In 2021, he qualified for the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in suburban San Diego, a two-hour drive from his home. He missed the cut in what was his PGA TOUR debut.
How the Tournament Works
PGA TOUR Canada along with PGA TOUR Latinoamérica are international PGA TOUR-sanctioned tours that provide access to the Korn Ferry Tour and are part of the pathway to the PGA TOUR. Since its inception in 2013, PGA TOUR Canada has held 32 Qualifying Tournaments across the U.S. and Canada. This event is the second of six 2023 PGA TOUR Canada Qualifiers scheduled in advance of the 2023 season. Each qualifier is a 72-hole, no-cut event, with playoffs, if necessary, for the medalist position and for the 10th and final position available.
One-hundred-thirty players started the tournament Tuesday. Below is a breakdown of the various PGA TOUR Canada membership statuses available this week.
|Medalist||Exempt membership for the 2023 season|
|2nd through 10th (no ties)
|Exempt through the reshuffle, which will occur approximately halfway through the season|
|11th through 30th (plus ties)||Conditional membership|
- Players in this week’s field come from eight countries or territories: Australia, Canada, Colombia, England, France, Germany, Mexico and the United States.
- Riley Bell, a native of Yuba City, California, lives in Sacramento as he finishes his senior season at Sacramento State. He’s enjoying his accommodations this week, staying with a host family he met through the College Golf Fellowship. His home for the week is up the street from the clubhouse, “only a driver from the golf course.”
- Of Roy Cootes’ closing bogeys, he three-putted from 40 feet on No. 17 then made what he called a “good bogey” on 18 after his second-shot approach rolled down a hill and into the hazard. With a penalty stroke, Cootes was happy to walk away with 5 on the par-4.
- Connor Schmidt is familiar with RTJ Golf Trail at Highland Oaks, having played in the 2022 PGA TOUR Canada Qualifying Tournament at the course. Tuesday, he played in warm but overcast conditions, considerably better than what he faced in his opening round a year ago. “I felt like I got a bad draw last year. It was raining. At least today, there wasn’t much wind out there, so I felt it was pretty gettable today,” Schmidt said. He tied for 62nd a year ago, failing to gain membership.
- With conditional PGA TOUR Latinoamérica status, Connor Schmidt is based in Sarasota, Florida, playing out of TPC Prestancia. He qualified for PGA TOUR Latinoamérica in November 2022 by tying for 36th at the Country Club of Ocala in Florida. Schmidt has yet to play in any of the three official events the Tour has conducted during its 2022-23 wraparound season.
- The top Canadian among the eight competing in this week’s field is Jake Bryson, of Dunrobin, Ontario via Utah Valley University. Bryson fired a 4-under 68 Tuesday and is tied for eighth.
- For all four years at Pepperdine, Roy Cootes roomed with Sahith Theegala, now the No. 29-ranked player in the world and appearing this week at THE PLAYERS Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Cootes stays in contact with all of his former teammates and speaks to Theegala regularly despite Theegala moving from California to Houston. “Having played so much with those guys, it makes me feel like I have the game to be [on the PGA TOUR]. Sahith constantly reminds me of that, too. It’s nice to see him have so much success, knowing that maybe I’m not that far away,” Cootes said.
- Last week, Riley Bell played for Sacramento State at the University of Wyoming-hosted Wyoming Desert Intercollegiate in Palm Desert, California. Bell tied for 37th, with Sacramento State finishing 13th in the 16-team field.
- J.D. Hughes closed his first round in strong fashion, finishing his day completely opposite from how he started. The former Penn State collegian from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, began with a double bogey-6 at the par-4 10th hole but finished with an eagle-3 at the par-5 ninth. Hughes was even-par through 15 holes before his birdie-birdie-eagle finish left him with a 4-under 68, good for a tie for eighth.
- Playing in this week’s Qualifying Tournament is Will Holmgren, the older brother to 2022 PGA TOUR Canada member Van Holmgren. The younger Holmgren played in seven events a year ago and finished 64th in the Fortinet Cup standings, unable to maintain his membership. This is Will Holmgren’s second time playing Q-School. He finished 57th in 2020 in San Antonio, Texas, failing to qualify.
There are 27 amateurs playing this week. After 18 holes, seven posted under-par scores. Here are their results and where they stand:
|T1||Riley Bell (U.S.)||66 (-6)|
|T8||Mark Goetz (U.S.)||68 (-4)|
|T8||Connor Howe (U.S.)||68 (-4)|
|T22||Blain Turner (U.S.)||70 (-2)|
|T32||Andrew O’Leary (U.S.)||71 (-1)|
|T32||John Bush (U.S.)||71 (-1)|
|T32||Aymeric Laussot (France)||71 (-1)|
|T46||Christian Fanfelle (U.S.)||72 (even)|
|T46||James Swash (U.S.)||72 (even)|
|T46||Andrew Gianaros (U.S.)||72 (even)|
|T57||Max Charles (Australia)||73 (+1)|
|T57||Sean Wilcox (U.S.)||73 (+1)|
|T57||Will Holmgren (U.S.)||73 (+1)|
|T68||Mason Nome (U.S.)||74 (+2)|
|T79||Carter Prince (U.S.)||75 (+3)|
|T79||Joey Ranieri (U.S.)||75 (+3)|
|T79||Brent Hamm (U.S.)||75 (+3)|
|T87||James Hunneke (U.S.)||76 (+4)|
|T87||Michael Shears (U.S.)||76 (+4)|
|T87||Diego Garcia Hernandez (Mexico)||76 (+4)|
|T106||Will Thomson (U.S.)||79 (+7)|
|T106||Kade Luebke||79 (+7)|
|T106||Patrick Healy (U.S.)||79 (+7)|
|T123||Tyler Gray (U.S.)||83 (+11)|
|T125||Kyle Leeds (U.S.)||84 (+12)|
|T125||Ash Hakim (U.S.)||84 (+12)|
|130||Colin Buckborough (Canada)||94 (+22)|
The Player’s Chatter from the 19th Hole
“It’s way different. It’s mainly the chipping around the greens. During the practice round [Monday], I just spent a lot of time going to every spot around the greens, chipping and putting.” –Roy Cootes on the difference in grass style between what he’s seeing this week and what he plays on in California
“My immediate thought was these greens are challenging. You have to hit it onto the right tiers. That was my first impression.” –Riley Bell
“I’m obviously very pleased with the round today. It exceeded my expectations, for sure.”
“I thought I played a really solid, steady round today. I hit the driver right how I wanted to, hit a bunch of fairways and made a few longer putts.” –Connor Schmidt
“I played Korn Ferry (Tour) Q-School in the past, and I thought you had to go out and tear the place apart to qualify. I didn’t try to force things today and took things when they did come.” – Matt Hoemann
“Max Homa talked a little bit about focusing on his effort and forgetting the result. So, we’re focusing on the effort—how much effort I’m putting into each shot and whatever happens happens. That’s been our motto.” –Matt Hoemann on his strategy this week
First-Round Weather: Mostly cloudy in the morning, becoming mostly sunny in the afternoon. High of 83. Wind NNW at 3-5 mph.