A decent chunk of the Nationwide Tour season passed before Matt Davidson got a chance to test the waters.
On Thursday, the 29-year-old Davidson roamed into the deep end.
Davidson put every one of his tee shots on to Crestview Country Club's fairways and fired a bogey-free, 8-under-par 63 to grab a one-shot lead in the first round of the $575,000 Wichita Open.
With Mother Nature throwing golfers a curve ball — a northerly breeze in early August across Crestview's North course — Davidson led the tour's latest assault on par. The former Furman University golfer, who played on the PGA Tour in 2005, made eight birdies as 103 of the 155 competitors who posted scores were under par.
"It should be a pretty decent (course) for me just because it's not overly long and it's not wide open either," said Davidson, who earned conditional status as the 68th qualifier from the PGA Tour's annual qualifying tournament in December. "I don't hit the ball very far and it's a course that rewards accuracy over length, which will be better for me."
The closest pursuers to Davidson at 7-under 64 were Californian Dan Buchner, Omaha native Scott Gutschewski, Australian Steven Bowditch and Roberto Castro, who withdrew from the Georgia Open this week to play in Wichita, opening a spot in that tournament for former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz.
The Wichita Open field will be cut to the low 60 and ties after today's round. Those within reach include Tommy Gainey and Martin Piller, two-time winners this season who can go directly to the PGA Tour with a third victory.
Davidson, meanwhile, is still settling in on the Nationwide Tour. He spent the early part of 2010 on the eGolf Professional Tour, posting three top-10 finishes in eight events. His first chance on the Nationwide came at the Fort Smith Classic in mid-June. Davidson opened with a 64 and tied for seventh, and has since made the cut in three of his last four tournaments.
"It's been really different starting halfway through the year out here," Davidson said. "This is my fifth (tournament) in a row in this stretch and I'm getting pretty comfortable."
Davidson earned his spot on the PGA Tour at q-school shortly after finishing his career at Furman. Since 2006, his primary source of competition has been mini-tours.
"I haven't been playing my best golf at q-school, but play pretty well during the year," said Davidson, who was second on the eGolf Tour money list last year with more than $138,000 in earnings.
While it's been a few years, some of those closest to Davidson on the leaderboard have some decent Wichita Open history.
Bowditch, who posted his 64 in the afternoon round along with Castro, tied for ninth in 2005 at Crestview. Gutschewski, a tour veteran who is 19th on the money list after a top-10 finish Sunday in his hometown, also has been successful in Wichita.
Dealing with the death of his grandmother Tuesday in Omaha, Gutschewski was under par for the 14th time in 15 rounds at the Wichita Open. He has finished in the top 25 three times at Crestview, most recently in 2008.
"It was a good round, a good start," said Gutschewski, who remained in Omaha until Tuesday. "It's a tough time, but I'll be able to be at her funeral Monday."
Buchner has dealt with difficulties of a different sort. After tying for 27th at the Louisiana Open, the 37-year-old decided to undergo Lasik eye surgery during the tour's two-week break. He missed 10 consecutive cuts after the procedure and is returning from two weeks off at his home in Seal Beach, Calif.
"It was a tough decision taking last week off," Buchner said. "It's the first time I've ever been in a Nationwide Tour event and chosen not to play.... But I felt like I needed to get home and work on my game and sort of break up the routine."
With the field posting a scoring average of 69.4, the leaderboard is a diverse melting pot. There's players like Buchner, who is eager to jump-start a season. There's Jhonnattan Vegas (65), who led for each of the first three rounds at Crestview a year ago. And there are those having successful seasons like No. 5 money leader Kevin Chappell (66).
"You look at the board and you can tell there is a long way to go, a lot of golf to be played," Vegas said.