LEWISTON – Jake Katz’s return to competitive golf was predictably sporadic Wednesday.
There was some good – like a 20-foot birdie putt on the second hole. But unfortunately for Katz, the bad moments outweighed the good in the first round of the Porter Cup at Niagara Falls Country Club.
The 26-year-old from Williamsville carded an opening-round of 6-over-par 76 in one of his first competitive rounds since regaining his amateur status earlier this year. Katz abandoned his goal of playing professionally in the spring last year, meaning it’s been 15 months since he’s been in the type of pressure situations the Porter Cup presents.
“It’s fun to get the competitive juices going,” he said. “This is my first real crack at being an amateur again, so it’s fun. … It was cool to have every shot, every putt mean something again.”
Katz admitted before the tournament about being worried about what type of shape his game would be in. His day job as a financial planner has kept him from practicing much.
“My game has not been good,” he said matter-of-factly. “It’s not where I want it to be. The clubface feels like it can turn over and a quick hook is right around the corner. I’ve been fighting it off. I battled early on, then lost some steam in the middle of the round.”
The par-5s proved to be Katz’s undoing. He played those three holes in 2-over – a big disappointment for a player with Katz’s length off the tee.
“I had four ‘sixs,’ which is never good,” he said. “But I birdied No. 5, then had good birdie chances on seven, eight and nine and couldn’t get any of them to go.”
Katz made the turn in 1-over 36, but struggled to a 5-over 40 coming in. The big mistake came on the par-4 17th hole when he drove the ball out of bounds.
“I just hit one way, way right,” he said. “It just got away from me coming in.”
Back in 2010, Katz played in the final group – the last local player to seriously contend. Wednesday’s 76 marked the highest score he’s ever shot at NFCC, by his own recollection.
Leading the way among the local players was East Amherst’s Danny Yustin, who shot a round of 2-under 68 and is in a tie for 12th, four shots behind leader Scott Harvey.
Yustin overcame a double bogey on the par-5 11th hole with birdies on the par-5 13th and par-4 15th to keep together a solid round.
Clarence’s Marc Holzhauer, Lewiston’s Mike Boss and East Amherst’s Ben Reichert are part of a tie for 48th after they each opened with a round of 2-over 72, while Silver Creek’s Jamie Miller carded a 5-over 75.
History was made at the Porter Cup on Wednesday. For the first time ever, players were permitted to wear shorts. That’s what happens when the mercury rises to 90 degrees, as it did Wednesday along the Niagara Escarpment.
Tournament director Steve Denn made the call to permit shorts Tuesday after looking at the forecast, which calls for another day in the upper 80s Thursday.
Some of the Southern players in the field, however, got a chuckle about the conditions.
“They’re complaining about the heat up here? I think it feels great,” said Kyle Mueller of Watkinsville, Ga. “I thought about wearing pants, just to carry on the tradition.”
The 477-yard par-4 ninth hole played the most difficult Wednesday, to a stroke average of 4.36, while the par-4 15th hole was easiest, at 3.71.