Ben Kohles takes lead with 65 at Wichita Open
The wind roared and the scores soared.
It was a challenging opening round of golf for the 156 competitors at the Wichita Open on Thursday at Crestview Country Club. Most years, you can count on oodles of early red numbers and a handful of scores in the low 60s. Not this time. Strong, persistent winds made it difficult to break par.
Sebastian Cappelen, who won here in 2014, and Ben Kohles, a two-time winner on the Web.com Tour, seized control of the tournament by shooting 65 (-5), tying the highest score in tournament history to lead after one round.
"It doesn’t really matter what round or what course it's on, a 65 is always going to be nice," Cappelen said. "I am taking it as any other round. Hopefully I continue that mood in the morning and post another good score. It was not easy. So many shots were close to a straight cross wind where you couldn’t really tell if it was helping a little bit or hurting a little bit. You had to make good decisions and then execute those decisions."
Both leaders had to save par on the final hole to earn their spot atop the leaderboard.
First, Cappelen drained a 25-footer after scrambling just to get on the green. Then Kohles got up and down from the fairway to make up for a wayward drive.
Cappelen credited a new putter (the TaylorMade Spider Mini) for helping him make putts throughout the day.
"I see the greens really nicely here, which gives you some comfort," he said, "because you know if you miss the green you just have to get it up there and you know you are going to make the putt."
Kohles said the weather gave him an assist. While other golfers struggled to navigate the difficult conditions, he thrived.
"I am a pretty low-ball hitter, so I like it when it is really windy," Kohles said. "I feel like I definitely have an advantage, keeping the ball on the ground. I put a 2 iron in play last week, which has been really useful, especially today with the wind. I feel like my game is suited for this."
What made each other rounds unique was that they came in the afternoon when the wind picked up.
For much of the day, it seemed as though Jose de Jesus Rodriguez would lead with an early 66. He was genuinely thankful he was given a morning tee time.
"I’m finished," he said. "That’s good for me compared to the other guys."
Indeed, the conditions got harder as the day went on. Former PGA Tour star Stuart Appleby, who shot 71 while playing in the first group, said wind began impacting the course when he got to the back nine. Everyone who teed off after 10 a.m. dealt with wind gusts from start to finish.
Nineteen golfers broke par under those conditions and the majority of competitors finished in the 70s. Eric Hallberg slogged his way to an 84.
Wind can be an equalizing factor at any golf course, and it made a big impact here. It took several golfers by surprise.
"What was unique was that the wind was in a completely different direction than how this tournament normally plays," Roger Sloan said after shooting a 67. "It has definitely gusted this hard in years past when I have been here, it just has never been in this direction. It creates a little change in strategy."
That made a big difference on the par-4 seventh hole, where long hitters like to go for the green with driver in regular conditions. But they risk dunking one in the water against the wind. The par 3s were also different. Instead of hitting long irons and hybrids into the wind, players went with short irons.
Rodriguez handled things better than most.
"It’s patience," Rodriguez, of Mexico, said. "It’s a golf course that's hard in these conditions. There is a lot of wind, and the key is patience. Every shot, we think what are we going to do. I think it takes more concentration on this golf course, because there are easy, easy bogeys. If you lose a shot, even a little bit, it's a bogey for sure."
The leaderboard may not feature as much red as usual, but it is packed with capable players and big names. The biggest is Mike Weir, the 48-year old former Masters champion who is trying to reclaim a spot on the PGA Tour before he is eligible to join the Champions Tour.
Weir had one of the finest rounds of the day, posting a 68 that featured four birdies.
His strategy: "Just swinging within myself. When I was in between clubs I tried to take one extra always and just swing with a little better tempo and keep my balance in the wind. That’s a key out there when the wind is blowing, trying to have good balance."
Sloan was among the happiest golfers leaving the course.
He has played in the Wichita Open six times before and never once made the cut. That is likely to change this year. He's in position to contend all the way to Sunday.
"It sets up your week," Sloan said. "It is better than shooting 76, that’s for sure. We did what we wanted to do today ... I have never made the cut here, so it was starred on the schedule. We were going to tackle it this year, and we are off to a good start."
Just not quite as good as Cappelen or Kohles.