The only other time Johan Kok had been to The Dunes Golf & Beach Club was two and a half years ago for his brother’s bachelor party get-together, and as he recalls, he didn’t take well to the course that day.
His practice round prior to the PGA Professional National Championship this week didn’t do anything to instill extra confidence in Kok either.
“I said, ‘I don’t think you can shoot even-par on this golf course,’ the way it was playing in the practice round,” said Kok, a former South Carolina Gamecock golfer.
The rain Saturday had softened the greens, though, and when he made the turn at 4-under Sunday in the opening round of the 72-hole tournament, he pointed to the nearby leaderboard and said to his caddie and father Andre Kok, “Look, I got my name on the leaderboard already, so at least that’s a highlight for the week.”
He’d accomplish more than that by the time he was finished.
Playing in the PGA Professional National Championship for the first time, Kok would shoot a 5-under 67 to tie for the first-round lead in a field of 312 golfers while also tying the Dunes Club course record.
The only other golfers to ever shoot a 67 on the course from the far tees were Billy Joe Patton, in the 1960 Southern Amateur, and Ben Crenshaw, at PGA Tour Qualifying School in 1973. Jay Sigel later fired a 63 when the Senior Tour Championship was played at The Dunes Club in 1994, but that was from the shorter blue tees.
“Usually if you shoot a 67, you’re not thinking course record, but this golf course is so demanding if you miss a golf shot it’s pretty much a bogey,” Kok said. “So being at a club I struggled on the first time I played and then to [match] the course record in my first tournament round, awesome. Definitely a highlight.”
Kok, who is now the general manager of Temple Hills Country Club in Franklin, Tenn., finished the first round tied with Dave McNabb, of Newark, Del., who had fired his low round earlier in the day at nearby Grande Dunes Resort Club (where the course record is 65). Both courses are being used as the crowded field whittles to the top 90 scores plus ties after 36 holes and the top 70 scores plus ties after 54 holes.
McNabb, the head professional at Applebrook Golf Club in Malvern, Pa., tied for ninth in the championship last year in Oregon while making the cut for the first time in five tries at the event.
As for this championship, he and Kok have a narrow lead after 18 holes with Jamie Broce and Ryan Helminen tied for third at 4-under and a pack of golfers in fifth at 2-under.
“I haven’t played a four-round golf tournament in a long time, so I’m not really thinking about leading yet,” Kok said. “… But it’s always nice to be on the leaderboard.”
Andre Kok, meanwhile, said it was the first time in five years he has been asked to caddie for his son and that his message before the round was just to try to have fun with it.
That said, he wasn’t surprised by the first-round results.
“It’s wonderful for him and I’m happy for him, but he shoots lots of course records,” the elder Kok said with a laugh.
Kok was born in South Africa and moved to Peachtree City, Ga., when he was 11, where he would later get to know then Georgia Tech golf coach Puggy Blackmon, who eventually moved on to South Carolina. That’s how Kok ended up playing for the Gamecocks before graduating in 2003.
From there, he spent a few years competing on the European Tour and the Challenge Tour – the European version of the Nationwide Tour.
His best finish on the European Tour was a tie for 15th in France in 2004, he said, while he also had some top-five finishes on the U.S. minitours and won the first stage of the PGA Tour’s Q-School one year. Meanwhile, his career took him to about 50 countries, he said, before he decided to stop playing professionally.
He found himself out of golf for one year while working in the car business at a dealership managed by one of his friends before pursuing another path in golf.
With his job as general manager of the country club in Franklin, Tennessee, Kok said he’s down to about 10 tournaments a year now – mostly in and around Tennessee.
He was at his best Sunday, though.
Starting the day on No. 10, he made the turn at 4-under and was already right on the heels of McNabb, who had already finished his 67.
“It’s always nice to get under par early [so] you’re not worrying about shooting 85,” Kok joked.
His first and only bogey of the day came on par-4 No. 1 – his 10th hole – to knock him back to 3-under, but two holes later he hit a beautiful approach shot on the par-4 No. 3 to within a few feet of the hole and carded a birdie to quickly erase that lone blemish.
After three more pars, Kok reached the green in two on the par-4 seventh and sank a 10-footer for birdie to get to 5-under and tie for the lead.
It was during his senior season at South Carolina where he made the unorthodox switch to start putting left-handed despite swinging right-handed. “Puggy Blackmon told me I was crazy,” Kok said, telling the story.
He stuck with it, though, and it continues to work as his stroke on the greens was smooth all day.
Content with the way he was swinging his 3-wood, Kok also rarely used driver Sunday, but he brought it out on the par-5 No. 8 and sent his tee shot right of the cart path and into dirt and twigs.
He’d save par, though, leaving only the par-3 No. 9 between him and that share of the course record. With four bunkers surrounding the green, Kok stuck his tee shot about 30 feet from the pin and easily two-putted for par to close out the memorable round.
Now he just has to do it for three more days as he looks to secure a spot in golf’s final major of the year as the top 20 earn automatic entry into the PGA Championship in August.
“For me, I used to play in college, I used to play professionally; the one thing I’ve never done is play in a major,” Kok said. “I’m not saying it’s going to happen this week, but this is a good opportunity for us to do it. It’s such a great perk of being a PGA member. ...
“This is kind of what I built my last five years towards.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318 or on Twitter @RyanYoungTSN.