BY JEFF FALK FREDERICKSBURG – They’re better-ball playing partners, home-grown talent and relative unknowns in the upper echelon of local golfing circles. Oh, and there’s one other thing that Cody Kersey and Jesse Brown have in common – they’re co-leaders after the first round of the 53rd annual Lebanon County Amateur Golf Championship.
On Saturday at Pine Meadows’ 6,348-yard par-72 golf course, Kersey, a 20-something, former Annville-Cleona star, and Brown, a 35-year-old former baseball slugger fired almost identical 70s to tie for the lead after the first day of the 36-hole tournament. Kersey used a hot putter to forge his two-under par score, while Brown employed accuracy from both the tee and in the fairway.
While Brown and Kersey are relative newcomers to the top of the County Amateur leaderboard, those pursing them are not. Lurking a stroke back is veteran Dan Brown, while talented Andy Gibbons carded an even-par 72 and Brian Auman, Jimmy Gardner, Brady Demey and John Bankes all shot 73s.
Tim Leeper and Darren Lutz are five shots off the pace at 75, and Tony Deraco counted 76 strokes.
“If I shoot even, I’ll be in the hunt,” said Brown of his final-day pairing with Kersey. “Cody Kersey is my partner in a lot of tournaments, so I know how he plays. It should be a lot of fun.”
“We’re pretty good friends,” said Kersey. “I actually met him at Pine Meadows. We used to play in tournaments together, and we’re going to start again this year. I didn’t talk to him after the round, but he did text me and said I left everyone back in with that double bogey on 18.”
To what Kersey referred was a double-bogey on Pine Meadows’ 535-yard, par-five closing hole that would have given him sole possession of first place. It was Kersey’s second double-bogey of the day, the first of which came at the second hole.
But in between there, Kersey was pretty much lights out.
“I probabably made four or five putts over 20 to 25 feet,” said Kersey, who was the runner-up the last time Pine Meadows hosted the County Amateur. “You get streaky, and you can get on a hot streak with the putter. Honestly, I thought 67 could’ve been a good number, what I could’ve shot.
“I did play well,” Kersey continued. “My putter got hot. But I had two double-bogeys that shouldn’t have been there.”
Kersey got it going at the fifth hole and kept it going with a 35-foot birdie at number six. He became officially ‘hot’ after rolling in birdies at numbers 10 and 11, and his 10-foot ‘chicken’ at the par-three 17th was his seventh of the day.
“I definitely knew I had a chance that, if I could play my game I could be a couple under and be right there with everyone,” said Kersey. “It definitely helps to know the course, not so much hitting shots, but knowing the greens. Honestly, in the last week, it feels like I found my swing and I’m starting to hit the ball.”
Brown’s four birdies were substantially shorter than Kersey’s and he was able to avoid the double bogey. His longest birdie of the day came at the par-five 18th and was of the 10-foot variety.
“Yeah I’m happy, but it should’ve been better,” said Brown. “The putts, I didn’t make anything. I had a lot of opportunities, even though I struggled with the irons.
“I wanted to shoot a 68,” continued Brown. “It should’ve been there. But I didn’t make putts. I hit a bad drive on 16. I was in the crap and I had to take a bogey. It was there today.”
Brown negated a bogey at number one with a birdie on the 276-yard, par-four second. He then converted birdies at the par-five sixth hole and the par-five 10th hole.
“I had expectations,” said Brown, who’s never been in contention during a number of County Amateur starts. “I had been playing well, but this is my home course. I didn’t like starting off with a bogey.
“It is tougher if you haven’t played it,” Brown added. “It’s not super long. But you’ve got to hit it straight and the greens are small.”
The highlight of Dan Brown’s one-under round was a birdie at the difficult 388-yard, par-four third hole.
“I played with Jimmy (Gardner) and he said, ‘You left a lot out there’,” said D. Brown. “With this course, there’s a lot of danger out there. Almost every tee shot but one, you’ve got danger left and danger right. You’ve really got to hit it down the middle and there’s small greens.
“I’ve just never gotten over the hump,” continued D. Brown, who’s been a County Amateur runner-up twice and third a couple more times. “I look at it like I’ve been close. Anyone who can win an individual title is a good player.”
Gibbons got off to a bit of a slow start with a two-over par 38 on the front, then turned it around with a two-under 34 on the back.