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KINGSPORT — Chris Wynne believes he’s hit the ball well enough to take an early lead in every tournament he’s played this summer.
In Friday’s opening round of the 54-hole Ridgefields Men’s Invitational, his putter finally got with the program.
With most of the championship field struggling in the searing heat irradiating Ridgefields Country Club, the former Tusculum golfer turned in a 6-under-par 66 to take his place at the front of the pack.
Wynne’s only setback was on No. 3, where he picked up a double bogey after he caught a flier in the rough and put it 20 yards over the green in the hazard. After that, it was fun in the sun as he went on to make eight birdies.
“I made a putter grip change yesterday — went to a K.J. Choi. A big one. And it felt so much better in my hand,” said Wynne, who quit Thursday’s practice round after 10 holes. “That was the first time I’d played (at Ridgefields) in two years. But I started seeing some putts go in. When you see putts go in, you get confident.”
His confidence should be soaring. Wynne, of Johnson City, was the only golfer to break into the 60s on Friday. Lucas Armstrong, of Church Hill, was chasing him, four strokes back after firing an opening-round 70.
Armstrong collected a birdie and chipped in a couple of eagles on holes No. 6 and No. 11.
“I’d have been happy with a 72, but I’m happier with a 70,” said Armstrong, who’ll be a freshman on the Walters State golf team this fall.
Happiness was in short supply as disappointed golfers turned in higher-than-expected scores.
Defending champion Buck Brittain, whose opening-round 64 last year tied the competitive course record, carded a 71 to sit alone at third headed into Round 2.
Brittain collected nine birdie putts in last year’s opening round. Friday he didn’t putt poorly, but just couldn’t get them to fall.
“I shot 1 under. That’s not a terrible score. But compared to where I was last year, it feels like I’m seven shots back,” said Brittain, who thought defending his title added some pressure but not enough to account for the difference.
“It’s not that I putted bad. I just didn’t make anything,” he said “I think the greens are actually better this year. They’re rolling great. There was nobody to blame but me for not making putts. It was completely me.”
UT Chattanooga golfer Alex Ratliff, the 2008 Ridgefields Invitational champion, was tied for fourth with Rick Hensley at 72. Josh Cornett and Joe Meade turned in 73s, and Nick York, Blake Howard, Chip Spratlin, Todd Ricker and Dane Fairfield all shot 74. Lawrence Largent and Tanner Davis shot 75s.
Notable opening-round casualties at opposite ends of the experience spectrum: Mike Poe shot a 77 while Food City Tri-Cities Amateur Tour points leader and University of Memphis golfer Carlson Cox had a 79.
Wynne kept himself oblivious to the carnage going on all around him, particularly on the back nine, which proved treacherous to so many.
“I had no idea. I tried to stay in the moment I was in and the shot I was hitting,” said Wynne, who caught fire after draining a 20-foot putt for birdie on No. 9.
“I went for every pin on the back nine. To be honest, I didn’t really hit it outside of 10 feet on any hole. I hit the ball well. It’s hard to miss them when you’re within 3 feet.”
In seniors play, Mike Freels, Bill Argabrite and Bill Lewis were tied in front at 71, with Ron Waters one stroke back at 72. Tony Green — last year’s runner-up after Sunday seniors play was canceled because of rain — stood tied at fourth with Bob Clark and Mark Halvorsen, all at 73.