BOISE — Even Joe Panzeri couldnt help but notice the name atop the leaderboard Thursday morning at Hillcrest Country Club during the first round of the Albertsons Boise Open.
Panzeri, celebrating his 27th birthday by playing in the biggest golf event in his hometown, shot a 6-under-par 30 on the front nine and reached 7-under before a bogey-bogey-bogey finish left him pleased but frustrated.
Panzeri is tied for 29th with a 4-under 67. (Scroll down to bottom of story for Round 1 video highlights)
Its obviously a lot of fun to see your name up at the top, he said. At the same time, theres a lot of golf left and it leaves a bit of a sour taste in your mouth leaving the golf course like I did. ... There were a lot more positives than negatives. Ive got to focus on what I did well, which was a lot.
Panzeri is in his third season as a member of the rebranded Canadian tour, now known as PGA Tour Canada. He won an event in 2011 and is 40th on the money list this year.
He received a sponsors exemption into the Boise Open. He played as a Monday qualifier in 2011.
He hopes to play the Web.com Tour next season. He has three routes: finish in the top five on the money list in Canada; earn a big paycheck in Boise, which could get him into more events; or go to Web.com Tour qualifying school.
I feel like I belong out here, he said. I feel like I can play out here. Its a small gap between the guys here and PGA Tour Canada, and the guys here to the PGA Tour. Its playing well at the right time and taking advantage of your opportunities. Its just learning every day, which Im trying to do right now.
Panzeri torched Hillcrest for his first 14 holes Thursday. He holed a 45-foot putt from the fringe for eagle on No. 2 and birdied Nos. 3, 4, 6, 9 and 12. He was at least tied for the lead when he was 5-under, 6-under and 7-under.
I was hitting it well, but in order to shoot that low youve got to make putts, he said. My eagle on the second hole was more of an unexpected one. I was just trying to nestle it down there and make birdie.
His round began to unravel when he sprayed his tee shot on the par-5 16th well into the right rough. He played a nice layup but left his wedge shot well short of the pin. He three-putted, with his par putt spinning out of the hole.
His tee shot on the short par-3 17th spun off the front of the green. He chipped to about 3 feet, but that putt lipped out, too.
I felt like I hit two pretty good putts, he said. ... They both caught some hole and just didnt go in, unfortunately.
His approach on the par-4 18th also backed off the green he hit the shot he wanted, but needed one more club and failed to get up and down for par.
Obviously frustrating to be at 7-under and only finish (4-under) with those holes coming in, he said. Theyre not tough holes.
Panzeri grew up in the Treasure Valley and attended Meridian and Mountain View high schools. He finished his college career at San Diego and largely walked away from the game for a year. He broke a hand his senior year of college, and the resulting poor play demoralized him.
I wasnt having fun on the course, he said. I was miserable didnt really want to be out there. Youre not going to play well when youre doing that. I didnt even know if I wanted to come back to it, but I knew I didnt want to be out there at the time.
He spent a year as a trainer at a gym before deciding he wanted to give golf another try.
He worked at Crane Creek and SpurWing country clubs. At SpurWing, a member offered to sponsor him in Canada.
That was the break that changed his life.
I thought, Ill be mad if Im 40 and look back and think, Why didnt I ever give it a shot? he said.
He got another break with that sponsors exemption, something hes wanted for four years. He played in Canada last week and couldnt get to Boise in time to enter the Monday qualifier, so the exemption was his only hope.
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398