Londoner tames Redtail

JOHN HERBERT -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:11 AM ET

PORT STANLEY -- A 24-year-old London golfer and a teenager from Whitby grabbed the spotlight when the exclusive Redtail Golf Course opened its gates to the public and top golfers for the first time yesterday.

Sunningdale's Lee French and Will Mitchell, 19, shot five-under-par 67s to take the first-round lead in the Investors Ontario Amateur championship.

The 72-hole tournament resumes today and ends on Friday.

"I always took the trouble out of play," said French, who has been quietly building an impressive amateur resume the past two years and is planning to turn pro.

"When the opportunity was there, I made the putts I needed to make. It was definitely my best opening round in the Ontario Amateur."

Defending champion Andrew Parr rallied on the back nine with four birdies to shoot 71 and is tied for ninth. Parr said he was satisfied to rebound with a 32 on the back nine to get back into contention.

He said his goal was to not knock himself out on the first day.

A crowd estimated at more than 1,000 took in the first day. The tournament is open to the public for a gate fee of $15.

While most came to see local favourite Parr and for a glimpse of the exclusive club visited by the Queen of England, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, rock stars and movie stars like Sean Connery, it was French and Mitchell who were the show-stoppers.

Redtail's mystique was on display but Redtail the golf course did not intimidate many yesterday.

In fact, the course was ripe for the picking as conditions for scoring were perfect with no wind, hard -- and fast -- fairways and receptive greens playing at only average speed. Some of the fear was also removed by the Golf Association of Ontario -- the tournament organizers -- who marked most of the ravines and trouble spots where golfers normally lose balls with lateral red hazard stakes in an effort to speed play.

As a result, an amazing total of 19 players shot par 72 or better. Sixteen others shot one-over 73, including 14-year-old Daniel Kim, who had an eight on the par-four third hole.

Kevin Dore of Dundas and Patrick Forbes of Toronto also broke 70. Dore fired a 68 while Forbes came in at 69. Four players shot 70, including Matt Dietrich of Centralia. Seven players shot 71, including Parr, former Ontario Mid- Amateur champion John Webster of the Hunt Club and teenager Graham Hill of Sarnia.

Mitchell said the course played fair, but expects it to get tougher and the greens faster.

"You had to take advantage of the pin placements today because I know they are only going to get tougher as the week goes on," he said.

French's success shouldn't be a surprise to those who have been following his career. Last year he qualified and played in the Porter Cup in Niagara Falls, N.Y., one of the top amateur events in the U.S. Recently he was low qualifier in Toronto for the Ontario Amateur, shooting 70, and low qualifier for the Toronto Star Amateur scheduled next week, shooting 69. He also captained the Humber Hawks team at the Canadian university-college tournament in Duncan, B.C., where he shot 78-74-72-75.

This marks French's fourth trip to the Ontario Amateur. His best finish was a tie for 12th in 1999.

Entering the Redtail tournament, French said his game was much more consistent this year. His game plan was to play strategically, hitting shots to safe places on the fairways and greens.

He said he did that all day long.

"I kept playing the yardages and always took the trouble out of play," he said.

His scorecard was a picture of consistency with only one bogey. It came on the par-four third, where he hit his second shot over the green, chipped and two- putted. He made birdies on the 15th and 17th holes on the back nine, which he played first, and birdies on the first, fifth and ninth.

Watching French was his father, Lou, a top amateur years ago. "I was proud of him," his father said. "I didn't know how well he would play here. He hasn't been sharp the past week but it came together today."

While Redtail may have been easy pickings yesterday, that could change today. Dore, 20, a golfer at the University of Michigan, made it clear he wasn't resting on his laurels after shooting 68.

"You can't win it the first day," he said.


Videos

Photos