Former CU golfer Jeremy Paul 1 out of lead after opening round of The Ascendant at TPC Colorado; former AFA golfer Tom Whitney and Coloradan Geoff Keffer also break par
******For scores from The Ascendant presented by Blue, CLICK HERE******
By Gary Baines – 6/30/2022
A trip back home — make that one of his homes away from home — seemed to work wonders for Jeremy Paul on Thursday.
The former University of Colorado golfer, competing for the first time at The Ascendant presented by Blue Korn Ferry Tour event at TPC Colorado in Berthoud, holed out for eagle from 205 yards with a 6-iron on the par-4 18th hole — his ninth of the day — to make a good round that much better.
Paul shot a 5-under-par 67 in his first complete single-day trip around TPC Colorado and trails leader Augusto Nunez of Argentina by one after Thursday’s opening round of the 72-hole event.
With the wind blowing about 25 mph at the time, Paul hit his tee shot at No. 18 a little right, with his ball finishing on a bare lie.
“I thought if I got it anywhere on the green it would be a great shot,” he said of his approach. “The wind took it just right of the hole and it bounced to the left — which I thought was going to happen. The reaction (from the fans) was pretty late — it took about 15 seconds for people to react. So I thought it was maybe (for something happening on hole) 16 or 15. But it went in. Wow, that was awesome. That doesn’t happen often. I picked up a shot there.”
Or perhaps two. In any case, the 28-year-old native of Germany finished the day with an eagle, four birdies and a bogey — not bad for his first complete tour of the course.
But Paul did have some guidance around TPC Colorado, in addition to the knowledge he gained from playing nine holes each on Tuesday and Wednesday. He received some tips from his old CU head coach, Roy Edwards, and current Buff assistant Derek Tolan, both of whom have more experience at the facility.
“I texted with Roy and Derek Tolan — they play out here a bunch — and they gave me some advice and tips,” Paul said. “I asked them a couple of things about strategy. That really helped me for sure.
“I like the course a lot. It has a lot of risk-reward holes. You hit a lot of drivers, and I hit my driver really well. I like hitting a lot of drivers on the golf course. There are a couple of par-4s that you can almost drive. If you hit a good (tee shot) there you have a really good opportunity for birdie. I really like it and how it sets up. And it’s nice to get back to altitude because a lot of people don’t have experience playing in it. It doesn’t mean that if you have experience you necessarily play well, but at least I feel like it might be a little bit of advantage for me.”
And, of course, it also doesn’t hurt that Paul has returned to a place with which he’s familiar, and that he has a fair share of support this week. His sister has come to the Maine and Berthoud KFT stops, and Paul is staying at his girlfriend’s parents’ house in the south metro area. And then there’s all the CU-oriented backing he’s gotten. Edwards and Pat Grady — CU’s assistant coach when Paul was on the roster — were following him on Thursday. And he said he’s planning to dine with former teammate Ethan Freeman at some point in the coming days.
“I haven’t been really familiar with a lot of these areas (that the KFT visits), so it’s definitely nice coming here and doing other things besides golf,” Paul said. “Hanging out with my sister and friends. I’m going to dinner with Ethan Freeman. I’m relaxing. It helps the mindset and helps you enjoy it a little more.”
Though Paul played in a dozen Korn Ferry Tour events as a rookie pro in 2017, this marks his first year competing in a full schedule on the circuit. With two top-7 finishes and six top-25s this year, he ranks 41st on the season-long KFT points list. If he can get hot and finish in the top 25 in the regular season, which ends in mid-August, he’d earn his PGA Tour card for the 2022-23 season.
“All it takes is one good event at this point. If I get a win, I’ll definitely have it,” Paul said of PGA Tour status. “Or two top-fives would give me a good chance. You’ve got to have a couple of really high finishes. I’ve been playing good. I feel like I’m really close. I’m just waiting for the breakthrough week. You just have to keep plugging along and believing.”
Paul and his twin brother, Yannik, also a former CU golfer, are on similar paths — though they’re often competing thousands of miles apart. Yannik, who lives in Boulder County part-time, sits 40th on the European-based DP World Tour, where he owns three top-10 finishes this season.
The twins often traveled together for the first years of their respective pro careers, but now they appear to be on similar parallel paths on separate tours.
“At the end of the day we both want to be playing on the PGA Tour at some point in time,” Jeremy said. “If it’s next year or maybe in two years, that would be awesome. That’s kind of our dream.
“We figured at some point in our career, it’s tough to (always) go on the same path at the same time. He happened to play really well in Europe last year and got his DP World Tour card and is playing well there now. I happen to be playing here. Hopefully at some point we’ll be reunited on one Tour.
“We talk basically every day. When one of us isn’t hitting it well, he sends me a video, I send him a video. It definitely helps a lot having your twin brother and best friend also playing good on a really good professional tour and bouncing ideas off each other.
“When things are off, it definitely helps having your brother there. A lot of times when things are off, it’s minor things. Sometimes you need someone from the outside who knows you really well, that helps. So that’s been a little different. We talk with the technology — FaceTime and everything — so it’s easy.”
The only player ahead of Paul after round 1 was Nunez, who is coming off consecutive top-six finishes on the KFT (third and sixth). Nunez eagled the par-4 third hole and added four birdies in a bogey-free round of 66.
Joining Paul at 67 were Erik Barnes, Scott Harrington, Ryan McCormick, Curtis Luck and Michael Kim. Harrington, 41, is bouncing back after recovering from a recent case of Covid-19. Pierceson Coody, who led Texas to the NCAA title early in June and just won the KFT event in Maine, shot 69.
Tom Whitney, Geoff Keffer Also Start Strongly: Paul wasn’t the only player with significant Colorado ties to be in the top 10 after Thursday’s opening round. Former Air Force Academy golfer Tom Whitney, a resident of Fort Collins from 2011 to 2017, opened with a 69, putting him in 10th place.
“I’ve had seven cuts made consecutively leading into this event after starting with five (straight) missed cuts early in the year,” Whitney said. “It’s a welcome change. I’m just riding the momentum at this point.”
In that streak of seven straight made cuts, Whitney has posted a fifth place, then a 10th-place last week in Maine. He stands 53rd in the KFT points standings this season.
“We’re on such a long stretch — week 10 of 10 in a row out here,” he said. “I had a top 10 last week and had minimal prep this week, relaxing and enjoying the views. I was out on Boyd Lake fishing yesterday evening. That’s kind of what my tourney prep looked like this week.
“I’m looking forward to this final grind on this 10th event, then a week off and a push to the end of the season.”
Seven-time Colorado PGA overall Player of the Year Geoff Keffer, from Lakewood Country Club, was in the top 10 until a bogey on his final hole — No. 9 — dropped him into 19th place. His 2-under-par 70 came in the first round of his first KFT event ever. After being the qualifying medalist on Monday with a 62 at Highland Meadows, the 43-year-old teed off in the last threesome off the 10th tee on Thursday. He finished the day with an eagle, three birdies and three bogeys.
Here are the scores of all the players with major Colorado connections competing at TPC Colorado:
2. Former CU golfer Jeremy Paul 67
10. Former Air Force Academy golfer Tom Whitney 69
19. Geoff Keffer of Lakewood 70
19. Highlands Ranch native Derek Oland 70
61. Zahkai Brown of Golden 72
84. Sam Saunders of Fort Collins 73
84. Former Air Force Academy golfer Kyle Westmoreland 73
105. Jake Staiano of Englewood 74
105. Former Colorado School of Mines golfer George Markham 74
123. Dan Erickson of Loveland 75
137. Boulder County native George Cunningham 76
Tyler McCumber of Lyons 78-WD
An Eagle to Remember: On Thursday, Erik Barnes accomplished the near unthinkable, hitting the green on the longest hole on the Korn Ferry Tour — or the PGA Tour — in two shots.
The 13th hole at TPC Colorado played up a bit on Thursday from its typical 773-yard number for the event (closer to 725) but even at that — and with an estimated 20 mph wind at his back — Barnes still needed two really big pokes to reach the green. He hit driver, then a second shot from 315 yards. His ball ended up about 12 feet from the cup, and he drained that putt, making just the second eagle on that hole in tournament history (Davis Riley in 2019 being the other).
Going into the week, “I would’ve bet the house I wouldn’t make 3 on that hole,” said Barnes, who shot 67 on Thursday. “That is one of those holes where birdie is a good score. To even have a chance at making a 3 is pure luck almost. I hit two of the best shots I could hit and rolled in a 12-footer. It was pretty awesome. I think the first thing I said was, ‘Well, that’s the only time I’ll ever do that.’”
Barnes stands seventh on the KFT points list and is assured of being one of the 25 players who will earn PGA Tour status by finishing in the top 25 on the regular-season points list. He played in the U.S. Open this month, missing the cut by one.
Notable: Tyler McCumber of Lyons, competing in his first KFT or PGA Tour event since late February, shot 78 on Thursday, then withdrew due to injury. … While this season, the top 25 finishers in the Korn Ferry Tour regular season will earn their PGA Tour cards — with 25 more available at the KFT Finals — next season the number of PGA Tour cards allotted to KFT players will be 30. In addition, 10 of the top performers on the DP World Tour will earn PGA Tour spots, as will the top five finishers and ties at Q-school. It will be the first time in a decade there will be a direct route from Q-school to the PGA Tour. But next season, no additional Tour cards will be available strictly through the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, which no longer will feature of mix of KFT and PGA Tour players. Instead, KFT members will compete for larger purses and points allocations in those four Finals events. … Ross Macdonald, twice a runner-up in the CGA Match Play, is caddying for fellow Coloradan Jake Staiano at TPC Colorado this week. … After Thursday, the field will be cut to the top 65 players and ties, who will tee it up on Saturday and Sunday.
About the Writer: Gary Baines has covered golf in Colorado continuously since 1983. He was a sports writer at the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder, then the sports editor there, and has written regularly for ColoradoGolf.org since 2009. He was voted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2021. Email: ColoradoGolfJournal@mac.com)