This week's PGA Tour stop for the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial is one of the rare annual events that's held at the same course since the tournament's inception, dating back to 1946. Colonial is a Tour original, a staple in the rota and a layout that many players have mapped with precision before they show up on the grounds. But no one on Tour knows it better than first-round leader Ryan Palmer, a full-time dues paying member at the classic Fort Worth club.
It's not uncommon for PGA Tour pros to get an occasional home game, playing on a course they frequented growing up and in front of hometown friends and family. What's far more rare, however, is the player who's an active member walking with a caddie who is also an active member, and reigning club champion.
Palmer's caddie James Edmondson is a three-time winner of the Colonial club championship, coming down the final hole during his loop's first round, he issued a challenge to his fellow member. With one hole to play, Palmer was almost assured of low-round of the day, but standing in the final fairway, Edmondson told him he still needed one more birdie to tie his low round at the club. After a laugh with his caddie, Palmer took up the challenge and went on to make birdie at Colonial's ninth hole to walk off with a personal best round of 62, matching the lowest ever first round score at this event.
At 8-under, Palmer holds a one-shot lead over John Rollins and will play Friday afternoon with a full Fort Worth crowd behind him. A win would be a career-highlight for the PGA Tour veteran, who worked his way up through the Nationwide Tour to become a regular on the big circuit. He's a three-time winner and has become a familiar name atop leaderboards over the past five years, but this week is different for the Texas native, "This is what I dream about when I play here every year," he said after the low round. "This is the one tournament I gear up for the most... This tournament will be the most meaningful to me to be on that [Champions] wall on the first tee. I dream about it all the time."
Given his familiarity with the layout, he's likely to stay on the first page of the board throughout the week. Colonial is a tighter, and shorter layout where players often pull hybrids or irons off the tee. But Palmer is so comfortable with every sightline and landing spot, that he took driver on almost every hole. He said there was no doubt this was one of his best driving rounds of the year, and he got off the tee and around the course perfectly.
Texas, specifically the Dallas-Fort Worth area, is the home for many players on Tour and Colonial provides playing privileges for most. But Palmer is a regular at Hogan's Alley, playing your average games on a weekly basis with the amateur members. During the offseason, he is up at the course multiple times a week, playing the course as if being a professional Tour player wasn't his job -- much like any other old chop who makes their way around the local track. "These old men here make me grind because I have to give them so many shots. Maybe that helps." Usually, the best golfers at most clubs tend to run in packs, refusing to play with the mid-to-high handicaps that will muddle up their round.
But Palmer is pretty understated, speaking with a bit of a twang about how he's usually drinking beer when he's out on this course. "When I am out here with the guys, I mean half the time I might grab a few for the back nine and drink it myself. You can tell on No. 9 what I am going to do on the back." I don't believe he grabbed a few while making the turn on the way to his 62 on Thursday. A relatively quiet and down-to-earth guy who's just usually out here drinking beers, he will be an easy player to support.
Palmer will now play in the afternoon wave on Friday, utilizing his course knowledge of every wind implication and green undulation and taking the input of his club champion caddie. He won't need to match his low-opening round, but the hometown favorite should be set up for a deep run into the weekend. "I have made bogeys and birdies from every spot on this golf course you can find. If I just keep the driver, and play like I had been, this could be a special day [Friday] as well."