WICHITA FALLS – Braden Graham and Luke Antonelli shrugged off challenging conditions to combine for six birdies in the first round of the 2019 Texas Four-Ball Championship at Wichita Falls Country Club. The San Antonio duo’s 5-under-par 66 gave them a one-shot lead headed into Friday’s second round of the 54-hole major championship.
“Luke’s ball-striking was a key for us today,” Graham said. “He kept us in it when I was busy chunking chips and blading chips on the front nine. He probably hit every green. In fact, I think he hit 10 greens on the front nine because his tee shot on No. 6 hit the fifth green.”
After Antonelli carried the team early, Graham got it going with three birdies on the back nine. The two longtime friends and former college teammates at St. Mary’s University finished in third place at the 2018 Texas Four-Ball Championship.
On their heels at 4-under 67 are Ban Bintliff of Carrollton and his teammate Austin Motheral of Fort Worth and Carrollton’s Rick Sulzer and Danny Lovell of Dallas. Seven teams are tied for fourth place, three shots behind the leaders at 2-under 69. That group includes defending champions Jordan Woolf of Fort Worth and Keller’s Jace Moore.
The field of 48 two-man teams battled through brutal conditions on Thursday. After Wichita Falls CC took on about a half-inch of rain on Wednesday, temperatures for the first round of the Texas Four-Ball Championships hovered in the mid-50s. The biting, 20-mph north wind made it feel even colder.
“It was brutal, as tough as it could possibly play,” said Josh Irving, who, along with his partner Will Osborne, are one of the teams in the fourth-place logjam. “There really isn’t a birdie hole out there. You’re just trying to get in on the green or around the green and make a putt or hole a chip or something. It was as hard as any golf course I’ve played in a long time.”
The leaderboard also is crowded in the Senior Division for amateurs ages 55 and older. Three teams share the lead at 2-under 69. Ten-time TGA champion Mike Booker of Houston and his San Antonio partner Pat Youngs were first to post their 69. Craig Hall and John Pierce, another San Antonio-based team, as well as Fort Worth’s Hollis Sullivan and Lee Sandlin of Dallas also came in at 2-under par.
“For the most part we were both in every hole, pretty handy,” said Booker, the TGA Senior Player of the Year in 2012, ’14 and ’15. “People think it’s a bunch of birdies you make (in Four-Ball tournaments), but I think it’s really about keeping everyone in the hole at the same time.”
Tied for fourth place in the Senior Division at even-par 71 are the teams of Ken Coutant and Bill Jackson, and Mike Peck and Steve Love.
In the Super Senior division (65 and older), San Antonio’s Bob Hullender and Jim Martin of Dallas shot 2-over 73. They hold a one-shot lead over Ron Hubbard of Fair Oaks Ranch and Boerne’s Ron Trevino.
Although it has took on substantial rain during the past several weeks, Wichita Falls CC dried out quickly and stood tall as a legitimate championship test on Thursday. The Championship Division played the par-71 course at 6,882 yards. The Seniors played it at 6,459 yards, and the Super Seniors teed it up from 6,157 yards.
One of the old school track’s main defenses is Holliday Creek, a wide stream that empties into the Wichita River, a tributary of the Red River. Holliday Creek cuts through six holes – Nos. 8-10 and 13-15 – and requires carries of up to 80 yards wide. The cross hazards, on top of the cold weather and wind, added the course’s challenges.
Head Professional Mark Greer said the bentgrass greens are as pure as they’ve been in his two-plus years at Wichita Falls CC. With an average size of about 5,000 square feet, the greens have tricky, subtle breaks and were rolling close to 12 inches on the Stimpmeter for Thursday’s opening round.
The club, which still sits on part of its original property, opened in 1914 as a homemade nine-hole course. Over the years, the classic parkland track grew to 18 holes and established itself as one of the best courses in the region. D.A. Weibring and Steve Wolford renovated Wichita Falls CC in 2008; they added length, modified target zones off the tee and improved the green complexes to modernize the traditional design.    
Wichita Falls has a long, proud history of hosting TGA major championships, including three Texas Amateurs (1947, ’60, ’79), four Texas Senior Amateurs (1976, ’84, ’90, ’95) and two Texas Mid-Amateurs (1990, ’98).
The second round of the 2019 Texas Four-Ball Championship begins Friday at 8 a.m. For more information, including complete scoring, click here.