KERRVILLE – Three players shot 3-under-par 69 on Friday at picturesque Comanche Trace and share the lead after the first round of the 2017 Texas Mid-Amateur Championship. Chris Wheeler from Addison, Anthony Estorga of Dallas and Austin’s Jonathan Alden emerged on top of a talent-rich leaderboard and hold a one-shot lead headed in Saturday’s second round of the 54-hole, stroke-play major championship.
(For complete scores, click here.)
Close behind the leaders and tied for fourth place at 2-under 70 are Matt Wernecke from Austin and Lewisville’s Brad Gibson. In all, seven players posted sub-par rounds on the hilly Comanche Trace course, which is hosting its sixth TGA major since opening in 2000. The 132-player field, comprised of the best amateurs aged 25 years or older, is playing the Hills Course-Creeks Course routing at the sprawling 27-hole venue set against the tree-covered foothills of the Hill Country.
The Hills Course, along with the third loop called the Valley, was designed by World Golf Hall of Fame member and Texas native Tom Kite along with Roy Bechtol and Randy Russell. The Creeks was built in 2008 by Jay and Carter Morrish. Along with demanding elevation changes, a few blind tee shots and thick, waist-high heather grass on the margins of the rough, players faced relentless winds on Friday.
A steady, 10- to 15-mph south wind came whistling through the Hill Country early in the day. It kicked up to 20 mph with stronger gusts by mid-afternoon. Wheeler, Estorga and Alden navigated the challenges better than the rest.
“I got off to a rocky start, but made some putts later and played the back nine really well,” said Wheeler, who overcame a double-bogey on the second hole to play the final 16 holes at 5-under. “I hit some close irons shots and made a few putts drop down the stretch, and that was really helpful.”
Wheeler finished tied for second place at the 2016 Texas Mid-Amateur and shared runner-up honors at Spanish Oaks Golf Club. He said he didn’t see much reason to change his game plan for Saturday.
“If the wind keeps up like this, I’ll play conservatively and try to keep it going,” Wheeler said. “You have to keep it in play. There is some tall grass out there if you get it going sideways off the tee.”
Estorga made it around Comanche Trace with four birdies and a lone bogey on the 433-yard, par-4 fifth hole. He credited accurate driving for his solid play.

“I found a little swing thought yesterday that really worked for me today,” he explained. “I saw Jimmy Walker post a video on Instagram where he was trying to hit a cut. His thought was, ‘Swing left.’ Well, I’m left-handed so I used the opposite of that. I was thinking, ‘Swipe right,’ and that thought really helped keep my ball in play today.”
Alden, who won the Austin City Championship in August, birdied two of the four par-5s on his way to the top of the leaderboard.
Defending Mid-Amateur Champion Joshua Irving from Dallas spent much of his afternoon tied for the lead at 3-under. Two double-bogeys down the stretch backed him up to 2-over 74. He’s tied for 20th place.
In addition to identifying the best mid-amateur in Texas upon completion of 54 holes on Sunday, the TGA also will recognize the top “Mid-Master” from the field for players aged 40 years and older. Greg Smith from Austin leads the Mid-Master Division at 1-under 71. He’s a shot ahead of Plano’s Rick Sulzer, who shared runner-up honors with Wheeler last year, Southlake’s Jerry Slagle and Randy Lance of Spring.
The morning wave of players had the better of end of things on Friday. Of the seven who finished in red numbers, five of them played early when the winds weren’t quite as strong. Smith, the Mid-Master leader, and Josh Luongo from Round Rock were the only two afternoon wave competitors to finish under par. They’re tied for sixth place overall at 1-under 71. Thirty-six players are within five shots of the leaders with 36 holes remaining in the major championship.
The second round of the 2017 Texas Mid-Amateur starts Saturday at 8 a.m. For more information, including complete results, click here