Chris Gran, Mark Catalano and Jason Gerken are an unlikely trio leading the 96th Ohio Amateur Championship after one round.
Gran is a high school student who underwent heart surgery just over a year ago to correct an irregular heart beat.
Catalano, a former collegiate golfer, had basically shelved his clubs for the better part of two years to start a family and pursue a real estate career until this summer.
Gerken is a Princeton-bound golfer who finished out his high school career by winning the Ohio high school Division I state championship.
They all found the par-72 course at Sylvania Country Club quite to their liking yesterday. Each shot 5-under-par 67 to share a one-stroke lead over six others, including Sylvania's Kevin Kornowa.
Mark Bixler (Toledo) shot 70, Chris Harder (Holland) 71, and B.J. Pitzen (Toledo), Brad Heaven (University of Toledo) and Greg Soule (Sandusky) all carded 72s.
For Gran, 18, who will be a senior at Uniontown Lake, it was a career round, one he will not soon forget.
“I've had a few 68s before, but I've never gone lower than that,” said Gran, who sank six birdies. “I knew I was playing good, but then I made a few shots on the back nine that I hadn't made on the front nine.”
Catalano, 26, proved steady in his first Ohio Am. He birdied four of the five par-5 holes to put himself in the top group of the field of 144. For a few hours it seemed like old times for Catalano, who played collegiately at South Carolina during the 1990s.
“It's the kind of golf course where you just need to go out and manage the course,” Catalano said. “You have to attack it some times, but you have to pick and choose the holes.”
Joining Kornowa at 68 were Michael Sabo, Jason Oien, Josh Anderson, David Bietermen and Jason Kokrak.
Three others posted 69 during a round in which the average score was 74.62. A total of 45 players finished at even par or better while 31 shot under par on a muggy, hot day with temperatures hovering around 90 degrees.
Gran, who had an early tee time, started on the back nine and proceeded to birdie holes 12, 14, 15 and 17. He added two more on the front.
“I was hitting my irons pretty pure today,” said Gran, a three-time Ohio Amateur qualifier.
Catalano made it look as though he'd never stopped playing for two years as he birdied six holes, including 2, 4, 6 and 8.
“I had it going on the front,” Catalano said.
Gerken recovered for six birdies after bogeying the first hole.
The Ivy League-bound golfer said finishing tied for 29th at last year's Ohio Amateur helped him keep calm and focused throughout the day.
“I did very well on the front nine,” said Gerken, a Logan native. “I hit a lot of greens and really played well after my first hole.”
Gerken also said the practice round on Monday helped.
“It was a softer course today, maybe because of the rain in the morning,” he said. “You just have to hit it straight.”
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