Steady play puts Bakke in lead at County Am

EVERETT — Luke Bakke was making his Snohomish County Amateur debut on Saturday, and also playing his initial round at Legion Memorial Golf Course. And he was in trouble right away.

No, not on the first hole. Bakke had a dilemma on the drive to the golf course.

In fact, the 31-year-old Seattle man had to call a friend “because I didn’t know if it was this (golf course) or Walter Hall,” he said, referring to Everett’s other public course. “I was hoping I went to the right course.”

Bakke ended up in the right parking lot at the right time, and then made the right shots during his round for a 3-under-par 69 and the first-day lead of the 82nd-annual County Am. Bakke, who represents Mill Creek Country Club, has a one-stroke lead over Craig Crawford of Marysville’s Battle Creek Golf Course and Mark Strickland of Mukilteo’s Harbour Pointe Golf Course heading into today’s second round at Mill Creek CC.

Two high school golfers fresh from recent victories are tied for fourth. Chris Babcock of Everett Golf and County Club, who won the Class 3A District 1 golf tournament for Shorewood High School two weeks ago, and Kyle Cornett of Everett G&CC, who won the Class 4A state tournament for Jackson High School last weekend, both opened with 1-under 71s.

Bakke’s day was hardly beginner’s luck. A former college player at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock who spent six years playing professional mini-tours in the Southeast, this year’s County Am is his first tournament after regaining his amateur playing status.

He was steady from his first swing to the last, nabbing birdies on the first, 10th, 12th and 16th holes. His sole blemish was a three-putt bogey on the par-3 13th hole.

“It’s a good start to the week,” said Bakke, who moved to Seattle two years ago after marrying a Puget Sound-area woman. “I always say you can’t win on the first day, but you sure can lose on the first day.

“My goal is to not make bogeys the whole week and then see what happens. If I do that, I’m sure I’ll be in contention Monday.”

Saturday’s round was played in ideal golf weather — clear blue skies with brilliant sunshine and a gentle breeze.

“It was perfect,” said Bakke, who added with a chuckle, “I’m from the South, so I’m not a good bad-weather golfer. I’m happy it was nice.”

“It was great weather,” agreed Strickland, who just finished his redshirt freshman season at Western Washington University. “It’s hard to play bad golf in this weather.”

If there was any grumbling Saturday in the 79-man first-division field (for handicaps of 4.9 and better), it was due to devious pin placements.

“The pins were in pretty tough places, and they were pretty tough on every hole,” said Lance Kilbride of Harbour Pointe, the 2010 champion who is still in contention after an even-par 72.

Four-time champs Todd Tibke of Snohomish Golf Course and Alex Stamey of Everett G&CC, both bidding to tie Bob Whisman for the most career County Am victories (five), opened with over-par rounds. Tibke played through a nagging back injury to post a 1-over 73 while Stamey stumbled with double-bogeys on the first two holes and had a 5-over 77.

In a group of seven at 2-over 74 was Duane Diede of Everett G&CC, who is playing his 41st consecutive County Am. The 59-year-old Diede played his first County Am back in 1972 when he was 19.

The first-division field encounters a completely different golf course for today’s second round. While Legion Memorial has broad, forgiving fairways, Mill Creek CC has tighter holes lined with trees.

“You have to hit it in the fairway off the tee, period,” said Bakke of his home course. “If it’s in the fairway, then you’ll play well.”

“You have to hit the fairways,” Strickland agreed. “And you really have to position yourself on some of the holes. So it’s going to be a good test.”

The second division (handicaps of 5.0-9.0) and third division (9.1-20.4) played their opening rounds at Mill Creek CC and will move today to Everett G&CC.

The second-division low net leader is Mike Lee of Harbour Pointe, who opened with a 5-under 67. He leads Dave Nelson of Everett G&CC and Richard Black of Legion Memorial by five strokes.

Leading the third division are Bradley Johnson of Legion Memorial, Ray May of Everett’s Super Range, and Wayne McKinney of Marysville’s Cedarcrest Golf Course, all with 4-under low net 68s.

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