Tom Lehman couldn’t believe it.
“No way,” Lehman said. “Is that right?”
Lehman, Woody Austin and Jerry Smith were paired together in the first round of the Principal Charity Classic Friday at the Wakonda Club. All three are former winners of the Waterloo Open earlier in their careers.
Lehman won there in 1986, Smith in 1991 and Austin in 1993.
“That’s amazing,” Lehman said. “What a small world, you know that?”
What is not amazing is Lehman’s appearance near the top of the Principal Charity Classic leaderboard. This is his fifth appearance, and Friday was his 13th official round. He’s been under par in all 13 rounds.
Lehman opened with a 5-under 67 Friday, giving him a career stroke average of 68.38 in this event. He tied for sixth in 2011 and tied for fourth in 2012, both at Glen Oaks. And he tied for seventh in 2013 and tied for eighth in 2014, both at Wakonda.
“The course fits me,” Lehman said. “It always has since I was in college (playing for Minnesota in tournaments hosted by Drake). There are areas that are a little bit awkward, and I don’t mind that. You have to have some imagination, and I like that. The wind typically blows, and I like that. And the greens are difficult, so you really have to pay attention where you put it. I like that, too. There’s no guarantees, but I do like the golf course.”
Smith, a native of Oskaloosa, finished with a 68 Friday. That’s his career low in this event. This is his third appearance here.
“Playing with Tom is pretty easy, and Woody is Woody,” Smith said. “I like Woody a lot. I feel good. With me, it comes down to off the tee, and the short putts.”
Everyone heads into Saturday’s second round trailing John Inman, who shot a 65 and leads runners-up Lehman, Todd Hamilton, Gary Hallberg, Mike Goodes and John Riegger by two shots.
Inman wasn’t even in the tournament until Tuesday, when he was the low qualifier at Tournament Club of Iowa with a 65. This is his 42nd career PGA TOUR Champions event. His best career finish is a tie for ninth, which he has done twice.
Inman’s 65 Friday was his lowest score in a PGA TOUR-sponsored event since he shot 65 in the third round of the Hardee’s Golf Classic in 1994 at Oakwood Country Club in Coal Valley, Ill. (now the John Deere Classic).
A two-time winner on the PGA Tour, Inman didn’t have a par on his scorecard until the seventh hole Friday. He birdied the first four holes, made a bogey and then birdied No. 6.
“When you get off to a good start, and you make some birdies right off the bat, it’s always a nice feeling and I stayed relaxed,” Inman said.
Inman knows that when he arrives to the first tee Saturday, his brilliant play of Friday won’t automatically be there. In his previous round, on Sunday at the Senior PGA Championship, Inman played the final four holes 4 over par.
“Things change day to day,” Inman said. “But like I said, I know that I’ve been working on some good things and I’m just going to go out and enjoy myself and have fun.”
Inman also knows that first-round leaders often don’t finish as final-round leaders.
Only three times in this tournament’s 15-year history has the first-round leader gone on to win. D.A. Weibring went wire-to-wire to win in 2004 at Glen Oaks. Tom Jenkins, who won at Tournament Club of Iowa in 2005, shared the first-round lead. And Jay Haas went wire-to-wire to win in 2007 back at Glen Oaks.
Friday’s feature threesome of Miguel Ángel Jiménez, Rocco Mediate and John Daly had mixed results. Jimenez bounced back from a first-hole bogey to shoot 68.
Mediate, fresh off last week’s victory at the Senior PGA Championship, had a 69. Daly bogeyed four straight holes in the back nine (14 through 17) and shot 74. He is a PGA Tour Champions rookie making his first appearance in Des Moines.
By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter