Jeremy Wells leads the way for club pros at PGA Championship

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A club professional played like he fit right in with the tour pros on Thursday in the PGA Championship. No, it wasn't Michael Block.

Jeremy Wells made a 15-foot birdie putt on the 13th hole, got a tough par on the 266-yard 14th and then nearly holed out from the 15th fairway, the ball settling inches away from the cup.

“A nice stretch of 3-3-3 down there at the bottom of the hill, and that's when I kind of knew it was a special day," he said.

He tapped in for his fourth birdie and a round of 2-under 69, a respectable start for the PGA director of player development at Cypress Lake in Fort Myers, Florida.

It certainly beat his debut from last year at Oak Hill.

For starters, Oak Hill was tighter and tougher than the soft conditions at Valhalla. It also was his first time on such a big stage.

“I was probably fairly tired when I showed up at Oak Hill last year,” he said. “Four full 18-hole practice rounds later, maybe I overdid it. I had a blast, but for us when you come to one of these, you never know if you’re going to play in one again, right. No regrets from that.”

So he showed up at Valhalla with a plan and a little more discipline. He also cashed in on what Wells considered a fortuitous moment on the eve of the championship. He was waiting to tee off when he managed to sneak his way in with Max Homa and Scottie Scheffler.

“I'm on the first tee today, got like 12 people watching and I know them all,” Wells said. “Yesterday it was the real deal. To have that experience yesterday, to be so heightened and so nervous in a practice round, and I hit it fine. I survived.”

And he thrived on Thursday, became the second club pro in the past 20 years to break 70 in the first round of the PGA Championship. The other was Bob Sowards, who opened with a 69 at Atlanta Athletic Club. Sowards wound up missing the cut.

Block, of course, rose to sudden fame at Oak Hill when he made a hole-in-one and saved par with a brilliant up-and-down on the final hole to tie for 15th. That earned him a spot for Valhalla, giving this championship 21 club pros.

Block made a quadruple-bogey 8 on his second hole without hitting into a hazard and already was 5 over through two holes. He limited the damage from there and opened with a 76.


Defending champion Brooks Koepka’s bid for a fourth Wannamaker Trophy started with a tidy and largely drama-free 4-under 67, just the way he prefers it.

Koepka, looking to join Tiger Woods as the only players to win consecutive PGA Championships twice, largely avoided mistakes and finished with a flourish thanks to a break at the par-5 seventh after his 324-yard drive to the left fairway (there are two to choose from at the seventh) skidded into the first cut of rough.

When Koepka set up for his second shot, he was standing on a sprinkler head. He was awarded relief, dropped in the fairway then floated a 6-iron to 3 feet that he tapped in for eagle. He followed by draining a 37-foot birdie putt on the par-3 eighth to put him well within striking distance.

A year ago at Oak Hill Koepka was six shots off the pace after Thursday before racing to a two-shot victory. So while Xander Schauffele set a record by starting with a 9-under 62, Koepka isn’t exactly panicking.

“Pretty much for the first three days, I’m just trying to hit the center of the greens and get out of there,” he said. “If you pull one like I did on 7 and hit it close, it’s great.”


Xander Schauffele set the PGA Championship record with a 62 for a three-shot lead, making him the 12th player in major championship history to open with a 63 or lower.

None of those players had an 18-hole lead larger than three shots. Only three of them — Jack Nicklaus in the 1980 U.S. Open at Baltusrol, Raymond Floyd in the 1982 PGA Championship at Southern Hills and Brooks Koepka in the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black — went on to win.

Floyd also had a three-shot lead in 1982. Phil Mickelson had a three-shot lead at Royal Troon in the 2016 British Open when he shot 63, only to lose a fabulous duel with Henrik Stenson when the Swede closed with a 63.

Schauffele spoke from experience when he said it was only one day. He and Rickie Fowler each shot 62 in the first round of the U.S. Open last year at Los Angeles Country Club. Fowler tied for fifth. Schauffele tied for 10th.


The PGA Championship is starting to get used to a fast start.

Scottie Scheffler began the championship by holing out for eagle on the first hole he played Thursday at Valhalla. That was the third straight year in the PGA that someone started his round with an eagle on a par 4.

A year ago, Scott Stallings holed out from the 10th fairway at Oak Hill. The year before, club pro Jesse Mueller holed out for eagle on the par-4 10th hole at Southern Hills.

Stallings and Mueller ended up missing the cut. That's not a good omen for Scheffler, except that he's the No. 1 player in the world and the Masters champion.


AP Sports Writer Will Graves contributed.


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