Alternate Lashley records career-best score, leads field in Detroit

DETROIT – Living life on the alternate’s list doesn’t provide a whole lot of glamour. Nate Lashley will tell you that without hesitation. But at the same time, the he’s thankful for the opportunity he has at this week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic to prove that it can lead to brighter days and a permanent status.

There’s a long way to go, Lashley conceded, “but hopefully I can go out there and play like today, play relaxed golf and have some fun.”

The fun was understandable, a bogey-free day with nine birdies and a mere 23 putts at Detroit Golf Club. At 9-under 63 in Round 1, he has a solo lead for the first time in an unheralded PGA TOUR career, he will tell you, that hasn’t always been like the fun he had Thursday. Last year’s rookie season saw him finish 172nd on the FedExCup points list and led to a trip back to the Korn Ferry Tour Finals. He is playing this year on a minor medical exemption and has found himself on a weekly basis on the outside looking in.

Last week, Lashley opted to stay home in Arizona, so he wasn’t in position to accept a spot into the Travelers Championship that materialized late. “When you (are an) alternate, it’s not a whole lot of fun, that feeling of only missing an event by one person.”

This week, he arrived in town more confident of a spot and, indeed, he got the word around noon Wednesday that he was in.

Given that Lashley in limited opportunities (14) has gotten to No. 132nd in FedExCup points, a playing chance this week is well-timed as he jockeys to get into the playoffs. So, yes, a career-best score on the TOUR made him smile. He was asked the secret and the 36-year-old laughed. “Just get up, take it one shot at a time,” he said. “Just the same, old thing that everybody says.

“It’s just no easy to do.”

Lashley knows better than most. He was a junior at the University of Arizona in 2004 when his parents and girlfriend flew to Oregon to watch him in an NCAA Regional. They were killed in a plane crash returning to their home in Nebraska. His circuitous route to the TOUR, a road that featured years of minitour golf and a dramatic win on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2017 has tested his patience, but Thursday he was a model of consistency – he hit 10 fairways, 13 greens, and posted whopping 4.359 strokes gained: putting.

“I got it under the hole on most holes,” he said, “and had a lot of uphill putts with not a lot of break.”

Lashley was hardly the only one to take advantage of a premier day of scoring chances at this newest of golf courses on the TOUR schedule. For most of the day, the field average for the par-72 layout was under 70 and roughly 75 percent of the 156-player field was in red numbers.

Shockingly, some heralded names were not, most notably Gary Woodland, the recent winner of the U.S. Open. He bogeyed two of his first three holes, struggled most of the day off the tee, and had to finish with a flourish – birdies on four of his last six holes – to shoot 73.

“My timing was off,” conceded Woodland, who suggested he was almost too excited to be back in action since winning at Pebble Beach two weeks ago. “The energy, the fans were amazing. Crowds were huge, which was awesome (but) I was just quick. I hit everything right all day.”

Right, as in the wrong direction. Which was the opposite of Lashley, who did nearly everything right, as in correctly.