AUSTIN – Andrew Paysse could have been bothered by many different things on Monday in the first round of the University Interscholastic League Class 5A Boys Golf State Tournament.
The Belton junior medalist had the day’s last tee time at Morris Williams Golf Course, 1:15 p.m. He three-putted for a bogey on his first hole, No. 10. He had to endure two one-hour delays because of thunderstorms. And on several holes the players had wait 10 minutes to hit their tee shots.
Those situations frustrated, distracted and discombobulated Paysse so much that he masterfully fired a 5-under-par 67 — highlighted by five birdies on his final nine holes — to share the individual lead with Mansfield’s Cole Barnett. They are three strokes clear of the field entering today’s final round.
“I’m right where I wanted to be,” Paysse said in the darkness after signing his scorecard at 8:30 p.m. “Obviously I’m only halfway there.”
It’s Paysse’s first trip to the state tournament, but it speaks to his confidence level that he wasn’t surprised by his strong play. His driving and iron play were sharp for the most part, and a brilliant touch around and on the greens helped him save shots on his scorecard and climb to the top of the leaderboard.
“I definitely saved a lot of shots today with my chipping,” said Paysse, who will begin his final round at 8:30 a.m. today – only 12 hours after he finished his first round. “I was impressed with that.”
Paysse was at even par through nine holes, with birdies at Nos. 14 and 17 offsetting bogeys at Nos. 10 and 18.
“Andrew told me the back nine is harder, so when he turned at even I said to him, ‘It’s in your wheelhouse. Go throw a 32 on that front side,’” Belton coach Jim Hellums said. “I said 32, and he did 31.
“It was pretty impressive. He’s in a great place, and he’s where he’s at because he played smart golf.”
Because he advanced to state as an individual, Paysse is only grouped with other medalists. One of his three playing partners in the final round will be Abilene Cooper’s Cory Churchman, the leading medalist at the Region I tournament two weeks ago in Lubbock. Paysse won a playoff for the No. 3 medalist state berth — a spot added by the UIL this year — at Texas Tech’s The Rawls Course.
Klein Klotz of Lake Travis and Andrew Spear of Flower Mound Marcus are three strokes off the lead at 70, and three other players joined Churchman at 71: Luke Neeley of tournament leader Mansfield, Ian Berrigan of San Antonio O’Connor and Conner Bjugstad of San Antonio Reagan. Eight players shot 72, including Paysse playing partner Raul Hernandez of League City Clear Falls.
Paysse’s first hole of the day was not a sign of things to come. His approach shot on the par-4 10th left him with a 30-foot birdie putt that he left a few feet short. He then missed his par putt on the left side, making what ended up being one of only two bogeys on his card.
Paysse attributed the early mistake to the fact that the speed of the putting green — heavily used by the time he teed off — was faster than the greens on the course.
He followed the bogey with three solid pars after giving himself birdie putts on all three. Paysse was about to hit his tee shot on the par-3 14th when the horn blew, calling players off the course because of approaching lightning and rain. After a one-hour delay, play resumed at 3:30 and Paysse sent his shot right over the flagstick. He rolled in the 8-foot birdie putt to get back to even through five holes.
“It did definitely get me in a rhythm,” he said of his first of seven birdies.
Paysse made a testy 7-foot putt to save par at the par-4 15th, then a good chip helped him save par again at No. 16. He got his score under par with a birdie at the par-5 17th, ripping a low-trajectory fairway wood onto the green with his second shot and deftly two-putting from 50 feet.
Interestingly, a bogey might have been the turning point for Paysse. He missed the fairway on the par-4 18th, and his second shot got knocked down and came to rest under a low-hanging mesquite tree. His third shot came out low and hot, running off the back of the green. Facing a downhill, breaking chip, he executed it well and made a short bogey putt that put him back at even through nine.
“That was a big momentum swinger,” Paysse said of avoiding a damaging double bogey. “I went through the tough part of the course (at even).”
Starting his second nine on the front side at recently renovated Morris Williams, Paysse knocked in a downhill 8-foot putt for birdie on No. 1. Then on the par-5 second, a third-shot wedge left him with a 7-foot putt, which he drained for a stretch of three birdies in four holes.
He pulled his tee shot left on the windswept, 218-yard, par-3 third hole, but his chip struck the pin to set up a par, putting him at 2-under through 12 holes. Paysse got into tree trouble again on the par-4 fourth and missed the green, but another expert chip shot from 50 feet got close to the cup for a par.
After Paysse hit his drive down the middle on the par-5 fifth, the horns sounded again as more severe weather rolled in.
“It was a lot of start-and-stop. It was pretty nerve-racking,” Paysse admitted. “I thought only about hitting a good opening shot (each time).”
After another one-hour delay at the clubhouse, players returned to the course at 7:05. Paysse’s second shot threatened the green, and he chipped up for a short birdie putt to reach 3 under.
His approach shot of the par-4 sixth stuck on the back-right portion of the green, leaving him a 25-foot downhill putt with plenty of break that he rolled in for birdie No. 6.
After Paysse’s two-putt par at No. 7, darkness was beginning to set in when he teed off on the eighth, a 193-yard par-3 with a redan green that slopes away from the players. Paysse hit what he called “a perfect 7-iron” — not that he could really see the ball — that landed some 40 feet short of the pin and rolled to within 8 inches for a tap-in birdie that got him to 5 under.
Paysse’s drive at the par-4 ninth missed the fairway to the right, but essentially in darkness he two-putted from 40 feet for par to finish off a 67 more than 7 hours after his stellar round began.
Although he faced a short amount of recovery time before pursuing a state championship today, Paysse didn’t seem to mind.
“It’s better to be late-early (with the combination of tee times) than early-late,” he said. “That way it almost seems like you haven’t stopped playing.”
And Paysse certainly hopes he doesn’t stop playing like he did in his very memorable first round at state.