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2014-07-17 at 23:02

Locals struggle

By Leith Dunick,
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After a disappointing opening round to start the Staal Foundation Open, Thunder Bay’s Jeff Hunter took to Twitter, looking for a way to express how he felt.

He found it in a 1999 video clip of Shaquille O’Neal infamous, thundering dunk over Chris Dudley, followed by a hard shove that sent the New York Knicks forward hurtling into the stands.

“What the course did to me today,” Hunter tweeted, after shooting an eight-over 80 at a Whitewater Golf Course he’s intimately familiar with.

Nonetheless Hunter, who played alongside fellow Thunder Bay golfers Robbie Untinen and Evan DeGrazia in the final group of the PGA Tour Canada event’s opening day, wasn’t that upset with his round. It was all about the experience, he said.

“It was a lot of fun. It was way different for us, people clapping and you’ve got to wave when you pick the ball up out of the hole,” said Hunter, who had three birdies, but an equal number of double bogeys on his round.

“It was a lot of fun, even though we struggled.”

There’s nothing to be ashamed of, said Hunter, whose score was the second worst of the 156 golfers who teed it up at the first-year event.

“We were all hoping to play well. The three of us, we all shot pretty high, but the golf that was played wasn’t all that poor. It was just a hole here and there that killed all of us and a missed putt here and there. But the level of golf was not poor,” Hunter said.

Jamie Depiero, the only local with a morning tee-time, led the Thunder Bay contingent on Thursday, carding a four-over 76.

Untinen was two shots worse with a 78, while DeGrazia, who fired a five-under 67 to win the Keg District Open last month, and former Canadian Tour pro Walter Keating Jr. each signed for seven-over 79s.

Playing in front of a gallery numbering in the 70s was pretty cool, said Untinen, who two years ago set the Whitewater course record with an eight-under 64, but is already 14 shots back of leader Brandon Harkins.

“It was exciting,” he said. “I just had to try to calm myself down out there and started walking pretty fast. My caddy did a great job slowing me down and stuff. It was nice, the support of Thunder Bay, coming out and watching the tournament and stuff like that.

“Hopefully tomorrow we can have a better day and make a few more birdies.”

The wind didn’t help, said Untinen, whose card included just one birdie, three bogeys and two double bogeys.

“It was definitely playing tough this afternoon.”

DeGrazia, at 19 the youngest competitor in the field, finished strong, with back-to-back birdies on 17 and 18, but was over par on eight of his 18 holes, including a pair of doubles of his own.

“It was mostly about the experience, but a little about the scores,” DeGrazia said. “It was just a few nerves.”

While all four golfers will have a tough time surviving to weekend play – DePiero’s score was good for 134th – at least one thinks he can find his way into the top 60.

But it won’t be easy, Keating said, blaming poor ball striking for his 79.

Finding that low number is what Friday is all about.

“I need a good one. For sure I probably need to shoot 65 or 64. I can do it playing the way I was leading into today, so I just need to go to the range and find it and build off that,” Keating said.

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