Boise Open: Meridian's Panzeri gets taste of lead on up-and-down day

Hometown player’s opening surge, hard-luck finish yield a 4-under 67.

ccripe@idahostatesman.comJuly 26, 2013 

  • Moscow native learning pro game

    Chris Williams didn’t have the round he would have liked in his first appearance at the Boise Open.

    Williams shot a 1-under 70, which puts him eight strokes behind co-leaders Hunter Haas and Steven Alker going into the second round Friday at Hillcrest Country Club.

    “It wasn’t great, and it wasn’t the day I wanted,” Williams said. “But I didn’t shoot myself out of it, so I have a chance for (Friday).”

    The 22-year-old is wise enough to know he doesn’t need to get too down on himself just four tournaments into his pro career.

    “There’s a learning curve,” Williams said. “I still have a lot to learn, and a lot of these guys have been out here for 10, 12 years, so they have a bit of an edge on me.”

    Williams is used to success. The Moscow native won four individual 4A state championships while at Moscow High, and he was the top-ranked amateur in the world before turning pro in June. He won more than $32,000 in his first pro event, the Travelers Championship.

    He has quickly learned the difference between the amateur ranks and the pros.

    “The competition is a lot better, that’s for sure,” Williams said. “The competition is a lot deeper, and everybody plays well.”

    Williams admitted to some nervousness at the Travelers and teeing it up for the first time at Hillcrest. But he knows the golf course is where he belongs.

    “It’s still the same game, even though you’re playing for money,” said Williams, whose parents traveled from Moscow to watch him play. “It’s golf, and you still have to put the ball in the hole. It’s what I’ve been doing my whole life, and this is what I’ve always wanted to do, so I actually feel pretty comfortable.”

    OTHER IDAHO PLAYERS

    Adam Martens, Meridian: The PGA pro at SpurWing finished at 2-under. He played with Boise’s Jim Empey (2-over), and the two drew a nice gallery as they finished in the early evening. “It’s nice to have some people out here watching, so it was fun,” Martens said.

    Troy Merritt: The former Boise State golfer and current Web.com pro finished at 1-over.

    Ty Travis, Eagle: The only amateur in the field struggled and finished with a 4-over 75. But he does have some bragging rights of sorts: He was seventh in driving distance with an average of 341.5 yards on Nos. 2 and 16.

    Sean Thomsen: The Idaho Falls CC pro finished at 9-over.

    — Chris Langrill

— Even Joe Panzeri couldn’t help but notice the name atop the leaderboard Thursday morning at Hillcrest Country Club during the first round of the Albertsons Boise Open.

His.

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)

“It’s obviously a lot of fun to see your name up at the top,” he said. “At the same time, there’s 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. I’ve 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 sponsor’s 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. It’s a small gap between the guys here and PGA Tour Canada, and the guys here to the PGA Tour. It’s playing well at the right time and taking advantage of your opportunities. It’s just learning every day, which I’m 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 you’ve 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 didn’t 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. “They’re 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 wasn’t having fun on the course,” he said. “I was miserable — didn’t really want to be out there. You’re not going to play well when you’re doing that. I didn’t even know if I wanted to come back to it, but I knew I didn’t 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, ‘I’ll be mad if I’m 40 and look back and think, ‘Why didn’t I ever give it a shot?’ ” he said.

He got another break with that sponsor’s exemption, something he’s wanted for four years. He played in Canada last week and couldn’t get to Boise in time to enter the Monday qualifier, so the exemption was his only hope.

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398

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