|Matt McQuillan shot seven-under-par 64 in the opening round of the PGA's John Deere Classic on Thursday. (Eugene Tanner for QMI Agency)
KINGSTON - Matt McQuillan spent last week re-living his youth.
The relaxed stretch featuring several rounds at his home course in Kingston, sessions with longtime coach Kevin Dickey and a night rocking out with his hometown pals, The Tragically Hip, in Toronto seemed to do a world of good for the PGA Tour rookie.
After missing 10 cuts in a row, McQuillan, 30, came out of nowhere to grab a share of second place following the opening round of the John Deere Classic on Thursday in Silvis, Ill.
McQuillan, 30, shot a seven-under-par 64, putting him one stroke back of Kris Blanks of Warner Robins, Ga.
It was a nice little break, McQuillan said of his week off during a phone interview on Thursday night. It was good to see some family and friends and play a couple rounds at (the) Cataraqui (Golf and Country Club). It was nice to kind of (review) a few things I've been working on. It was really good.
It's a long year and obviously I've struggled a bit. To have a little break every once in a while is good for you.
Tied for the lead after morning play with 20-time tour winner Davis Love III, McQuillan settled into a three-way draw for second along with Steve Marino.
David Hearn of Brantford shot four-under 67, while Chris Baryla of Calgary carded a 70. Mike Weir shot 75.
It's uncharted territory for McQuillan, who made the cut and finished tied for 54th in his PGA Tour debut in Hawaii before taking 10 consecutive forced weekends off.
McQuillan came into the tourney feeling good about his game. He worked with Dickey on maintaining a high flight on his ball and carded a five-under-par 65 on his home course before leaving town.
After sandwiching a chip-in eagle on the par-5 second hole with two bogeys on Thursday, McQuillan made birdie on seven of his final 14 holes to surge to the top of the leaderboard.
It's hard to say you expect to have a great round like this, McQuillan said. But I've been working on some things and it's nice to see it come together ... I've been starting to feel more comfortable and (on Thursday), I sort of proved it.
As a result, McQuillan was called into the media room for the first time in his PGA Tour career. There, reporters from outside Canada learned his unique background story for the first time out of golf bartending and serving pizza a couple of years ago before returning to the sport and graduating from qualifying school.
It was quite the experience, McQuillan said of the media session, which also included questions about his childhood days playing hockey. I think I was more nervous for that than I was on the course.
Asked if it's been tough to maintain confidence during his rough rookie campaign, McQuillan used only one word yes.
When times get tough, he tries to remember he's not the first rookie to struggle.
That's been something I've kind of fallen back on, McQuillan said. I'm a rookie out here and I'm seeing courses for the first time and that puts me behind the 8-ball.
On Friday, he'll face another new experience being one of the leaders entering the second round.
I'm definitely going to be nervous. There is no getting around that, an honest McQuillan said. I kind of went into (Thursday) just kind of free-wheeling it and I'm going to try to do it again (Friday). I've really been grinding to make something happen, but I took a new approach (Thursday). I'm just going to go out and play golf and see what happens.