Weather took a challenging twist on day two of the 30th annual Natural Resource Partners Bluegrass Junior.
After simmering heat permeated the first round, a thunderstorm swept over Bellefonte Country Club on Thursday, creating a nearly two-hour delay followed by brighter skies but windy conditions.
Some long sleeves could even be seen around the course during the afternoon, a marked change from the previous day.
Patrick Martin of Birmingham, Ala., took sole possession of the boys’ lead by scrambling his way to a 1-over par 71 after shooting 66 on Wednesday. His 137 total is good for a two-shot advantage over Grayson’s Ryan Gillum and three other players.
Haylee Harford, the defending girls’ champion, also carries a two-shot lead into today’s final round. Play begins at 7:30 a.m.
Martin played in one of the last groups to tee off Thursday and called the wind a “really big factor. It definitely hurt a lot of people. I can tell you that’s including myself.”
The 16-year-old hit only seven fairways in regulation and had to battle all the way. He made two birdies and three bogeys.
“It was a grind,” said Martin, who is playing in his first open American Junior Golf Association event. “A good score was out there, but with the wind blowing, par was a good score today.”
Gillum, also 16, agreed. One shot off the lead entering the round, he made key putts on the final two holes to remain under par for the tournament.
“Today was a grind for sure,” Gillum said. “The wind kicked up in the afternoon and made the conditions tough. I was fighting and scrapping to make pars.”
Gilliam felt a great sense of relief, however, after rolling in a 12-foot putt to save par on the 17th hole, then connecting on a tricky 15-footer for bogey from the back of the 18th green.
After watching that one drop in, Gillum lifted his cap and looked skyward with a noticeable exhale.
“I needed that,” he said. “It was a slider. too. There was quite a bit of break.”
And the feeling of entering the final round at 139 and one shot off the lead. Last year, he missed the cut in his first NRP Bluegrass Junior.
“I’m ecstatic,” Gillum said. “It puts me in a good position going forward to the final day.”
Gillum shares second with Wyatt Larkin (Morganton, Ga.), Matthew Naumec (Wilbraham, Mass.) and Billy Tom Sargent (Georgetown, Ky.). Naumec made the biggest move, shrugging off the persistent winds to produce a 4-under par 66.
Tyler Pearson of Richmond, Ind., and Jackson Frame of Maysville are next at 141.
BCC members Nick Blankenship (148) and Drew Oxley (149) were among 56 boys to make the cut.
Harford leads a group of 19 girls moving on to the final round. She completed 11 holes Thursday morning before players were called off the course because of the approaching storm.
The wind caused a sizable tree branch to break and fall from above Yancey Pavillion. There were no injuries.
When play resumed, Harford didn’t want anything to stop her from posting another solid round.
“I was pretty focused before the storm,” said Harford, who has three top-five finishes in her AJGA career. “After the rain delay, I had to get back into it, continue to play my game.”
Today, Harford will be playing in a group with Louisville’s Katie Page for the third consecutive day. Page is second at 145.
“She’s a good friend of mine,” Harford said. “Last year we played together in the final round.”
Paintsville’s Ale Walker and Cincinnati’s Hanna Lee are tied for third at 148.
AJGA staff interns Michael Hicks and Ryan Flanagan are seeing the NRP Bluegrass Junior from a different perspective this week.
Both played in the event during their junior careers. Hicks, from Newnan, Ga., tied for 14th in the 2006 tournament. Somerset’s Flanagan competed in the qualifier in 2008.
“It feels awesome to be back,” Hicks said. “I remember getting to play in the Junior Am, and all the great hospitality. The community really embraces this event.”
Hicks went on the play college golf at Columbus State for coach Mark Immelman, brother of PGA player Trevor Immelman. Hicks was a Division II All-American and shot the lowest round — 68 —in the 2009 national tournament.
Flanagan said the Bluegrass Junior has always been special to players around the state.
“It’s first class,” he said. “When you come here, you can tell how much it means to the people.”
Flanagan benefited from the ACE Grant program that provides financial assistance for junior golfers to participate in AJGA events.
“I got to go to this tournament and three others,” Flanagan said. “It’s one of the reasons I’m such a big fan of the AJGA.”
He graduated this spring from Campbellsville University.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.