Jason Aichele — a Richland High grad, former University of Wyoming golfer and an assistant professional at Meadow Springs Country Club — is one step closer to qualifying for one of golf’s majors.
Aichele fired a 1-under-par 71 at the PGA Professional National Championship on Sunday in Myrtle Beach, S.C. That puts the Tri-Citian in a tie for 15th among a field of 313 competitors in the 72-hole event.
The top 20 placers earn spots in the PGA Championship at Valhalla in August in Louisville, Ky.
Aichele qualified for Myrtle Beach last October, when he tied for fifth at the Pacific Northwest PGA Professional Championship at Meadow Springs.
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On Sunday, he got off to a great start, teeing off on the back nine at the Grande Dunes Resort Club — one of two courses being used for the tournament.
He opened with two pars, then birdied 12, 13 and 14 to go 3-under.
“Three birdies in a row,” Aichele said. “That was pretty good.”
He stayed that way until he made the turn and bogeyed No. 1.
He double-bogeyed No. 5 to drop to even-par. But he got another birdie on No. 7 and finished with a 71.
“That (last birdie) was a good thing,” said Aichele. “The round could have gone the opposite way real quick.”
Aichele says he’s fighting the weather conditions.
“It’s hot here, about 90 with all this humidity,” he said.
But he did get three practice rounds in before the tournament, playing 27 holes on Grande Dunes and another 27 on The Dunes Golf & Beach Club — the other course being used.
“When I first played a practice round, I was thinking there is no way anyone is going to be under par,” Aichele said. “These courses are real long. And the grass is totally different than what we grow up in the Northwest. This Bermuda grass has a totally different feel.”
Aichele is happy with his start, considering he hasn’t been able to play too much this year.
“My busiest time of the year is February through May with golf lessons,” he said. “I could have played more. But you don’t get paid to practice.”
Aichele tees off at 7:30 a.m. EDT today.
Johan Kok shot a 5-under 67 to match The Dunes Golf & Beach Club competitive record and share the first-round lead.
Kok, the 34-year-old former University of South Carolina player from South Africa, is the PGA general manager at Temple Hills Country Club in Brentwood, Tenn.
Dave McNabb, the 48-year-old PGA head professional at Applebrook Golf Club in Malvern, Pa., opened with a 67 at Grande Dunes Resort Club.