BELLEFONTE Billy Gussler called himself a rising senior.
Gussler's journey up the leaderboard Thursday at the Natural Resource Partners Bluegrass Junior presented by Encova Insurance may not have been meteoric, but it was a rapid rise. He tamed Bellefonte Country Club with a 3-under-par 67 and moved from a six-way tie for 12th to a clubhouse two-way tie for second before rain washed out much of the second round.
Max Lyons, of Peoria, Arizona, is the leader at 8-under-par 132.
Gussler, of Ashland and a senior-to-be at The Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and first-round leader Parker Smith of Louisville both stand at 3-under-par 137. The difference: Smith crashed from Wednesday's 5-under 65 to a 2-over 72 with two double-bogeys.
“For one, I had an eagle on the second hole, so that really helps out the scorecard,” Gussler said. “I started off hot (Wednesday), I was 2-under through two, but (Thursday) I was 4-under through three holes.”
And Gussler? Steamier than Thursday's 116-degree temperatures in Needles, California: birdie-eagle-birdie over the first three holes, and two more birdies.
The shot of the day? Gussler's eagle on the par-4 No. 2 hole with a 60-degree wedge.
“I was, I believe, 65 yards out (from the cup), just barely in the right rough,” Gussler said. “My second shot, it landed about a yard or two short of the hole. It just bounced and rolled in.”
Understandably, Gussler likes his chances today.
“If I can hit the ball like I have the past two days and just run in a couple more putts – I've had plenty of putts within that 10-, 15-foot range that just barely lipped out – if I can run a couple of those in (Friday),” he said, “I think I'll have a good shot of winning it.”
Grayson's Connor Calhoun was the only other northeastern Kentucky golfer to finish his second round due to afternoon and evening rain. He shot a 3-over 73 and stands at 4-over 144.
“I guess the best highlight was on 15; I made about a 40-foot birdie putt from short of the green,” Calhoun said.
There was another memorable moment – a tap-in birdie on No. 10. Then, a par and three bogeys over the next four holes.
“I was even par through 11, and then 12, 13, 14, a couple bad tee shots and a bad iron shot on the par-4,” Calhoun said.
A sighing smile
Olivia Hensley gazed heavenward, sighed and smiled after her last shot.
The Boyd County alumna, the KHSAA 2019 state girls champion and Morehead State freshman-to-be, had reason to be relieved. Thursday's 1-over-par 71 was 10 shots fewer than Wednesday's nightmarish 81.
Alexia Siehl of Fort Mill, South Carolina leads the field with a 2-under 138, and Ashley Yen of Houston is two shots back.
“I definitely feel a lot more confident,” Hensley said. “I feel like I pushed myself harder (Thursday).”
The Bluegrass Junior is only Hensley's third tournament this summer – a minor byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hensley's round Thursday is a 400-yard drive better than being one of only two to shoot 80 or above Wednesday.
Hensley's round included birdies on Nos. 1, 4 and 10, and she shot a 2-under 33 after nine. The most gratifying may have been the first, a 455-yard par 5.
“It was a 25-footer; I made a long putt on that one, yeah,” Hensley said.
The birdie on the 355-yard par-4 featured a second shot to within six feet of the cup.
On the back Hensley also suffered through some doldrums with her driver – four bogeys over the last eight holes. She missed the fairways with her last three tee shots, but she saved par each time by scrambling more than Patrick Mahomes behind a high school offensive line.
“My driver, you've gotta work on that,” Hensley said. “You can never work too hard on it.”
Siehl and Yen both fired 2-under-par 68s.
Always the youngest
Gianna Clemente long ago grew accustomed to playing against players four, five and six years her senior.
“I've done it for so long,” said Clemente, a 12-year-old from Warren, Ohio. “I've always been the youngest for about three or four years now.”
Thursday, Clemente mostly outdrove, out-chipped and out-putted her elders – her 1-over-par 71 put her in seventh place at three-over-par 143. The round included three birdies, four bogeys and 11 pars.
One of Clemente's birdies was a 4 on the 473-yard par-5 No. 10. She missed a putt for eagle by about a foot.
“I definitely could've played better (Thursday),” Clemente said. “This course is really challenging; it's very undulated.”
Jay Scott of the American Junior Golf Association, the tournament director, said the second round is scheduled to resume at 7 a.m. today. He said girls third round tee times would be from 8-9:20 a.m., followed by the boys from 9:30 a.m.-12:10 p.m.