HOWEY-IN-THE-HILLS, Florida — Isaiah Salinda, Neal Ajubita, and Alex Smalley all posted scores of 3-under 69 Tuesday at Mission Inn Resort and Club to take the first-round lead at the second qualifying tournament for Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada.
Carson Young, Preston Stanley, and Alec Dutkowski all sit one stroke back at 2-under. Five other players are tied for seventh.
“Ideally I’ll get through here and get status in Canada, and just work my way up to the PGA TOUR,” Salinda said. “There are a lot of ways to get there and a million different paths. I’ve just got to stay patient and keep going for it.”
Experience was the overarching theme of the day. Salinda and Smalley—teammates for the winning United States team at the 2019 Walker Cup—have each made PGA TOUR starts this season, while Ajubita captured medalist honors here at the 2019 PGA TOUR Latinoamérica Qualifying Tournament.
Salinda carded just one bogey, at the par-4 16th, while pouring in a 30-foot putt to save par at the 11th. He is aiming for Mackenzie Tour status after graduating with a team national championship last year at Stanford University and began his career with sponsor exemptions into five TOUR events. His best finish came at the Safeway Open, where he tied for 33rd.
“Playing on TOUR has been great learning experiences for me,” Salinda said. “I’m just trying to apply that to this week and treat every week like every round and every shot matters. It’s been good so far. I’ve only been professional for five or six months, but I feel like I’ve gone through a lot already.”
Smalley, starting on the back nine, matched Salinda in the afternoon after posting a bogey-free 32 on the front. He nearly chipped in for eagle after making the turn, then added a second birdie on a 25-foot putt at the par-3 No. 2. He added one final birdie at the seventh hole.
The Duke University product is attempting to play in Canada for the first time this season. He got his first taste of professional golf last month at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he Monday qualified after surviving a 3-for-2 playoff.
“There’s so many people, it’s crazy,” he said. “To have that as my first TOUR event, it’s nice because playing in anything else is going to seem a whole lot easier just because of the atmosphere there is unlike any other.”
Joining the Walker Cup teammates as co-leader is Ajubita, who shot a final-round 71 here a year ago to earn medalist honors on PGA TOUR Latinoamérica. He struggled in his rookie season, missing the cut in nine of 10 starts.
But the 31-year-old feels much more confident in his game this time around. Starting on the back nine, Ajubita made the turn at 1 over after carding double bogey and bogey but rallied with a clean 31 on the front nine.
“I work with my sports psychologist on not having many expectations,” Ajubita said. “It’s a moment at a time, a shot at a time. I’ve had this mantra for around a year or so to be a factory worker where every shot is just a piece. You make a piece and go to the next one and try to make another piece as best you can. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
- This is the second of seven Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada qualifying tournaments before the season begins May 28 at the Canada Life Open. Blake Elliott won the first qualifying tournament at TPC San Antonio in February.
- Amateur Michael Winter carded a hole-in-one at the 153-yard 15th hole. He used an 8-iron.
- The highlight of Isaiah Salinda’s early PGA TOUR career came at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, where he played the final round with Phil Mickelson. He ultimately finished 76th in Las Vegas.
- Alex Smalley capped his collegiate career with consecutive wins at the Sunnehanna Amateur, becoming the tournament’s first repeat winner since Rickie Fowler in 2007 and 2008.
- Neal Ajubita attended Clemson University but did not play college golf. He essentially stopped playing after high school before picking the game back up last year.
“It was pretty steady. On this course, especially, you’ve got to stay patient and try not to force anything. Just trying to hit the fairways and greens, which for the most part I did. I hit it solid and made a few putts, but nothing super special.” – Isaiah Salinda
“I did play with Phil Mickelson on Sunday at Shriners. We were like the first group off and I wasn’t expecting many people to be out there, but everyone was following him. I didn’t have a good weekend there at all, but that was a good learning experience.” – Isaiah Salinda
“Putting really well. I had two hiccups but I felt confident enough to bounce back because I’m putting well. Nothing really fits my eye but I like that this golf course requires you to have patience. And that’s why I like it the most.” – Neal Ajubita
“We were looking for apartments (in Tampa) when Latinoamérica Q School was here. We came out and watched it to see the course, because I had never been here before Q School registration. I like courses that are a little more difficult, so I put this as my priority and got it. I came down to see the course and how it was playing.” – Alex Smalley
“It’s not the widest course. It’s pretty narrow, which makes it tough. You add 15 mph winds onto it and it makes it even tougher. They tucked some pins in some pretty good spots. The greens are slopey, so it adds up to a difficult golf course. It’s not super long and it doesn’t have to be.” – Alex Smalley
“It hit the wind and kept floating. It literally hit a wall and dropped straight down. You heard it hit the pin. It hit the front of the cup and slammed right in. We didn’t see it go anywhere, we didn’t see it bounce anywhere or anything. I thought it went in, got in there and saw the big pitch mark on the front of the hole and it was sitting right in there.” – Michael Winter on his ace
“It was definitely cool to get one, but it was cooler doing it in front of my dad (Paul Winter), because we’ve always talked about it and I’ve gotten close. Whenever he caddies for me he always says, ‘Next time, you’ve got it.’ And did it on a pretty tough hole too, to say the least.” – Michael Winter
First-Round Weather: Sunny. High of 27. Winds SW at 22 KPH.
How the Tournament Works
There are 123 players competing this week with hopes of earning Mackenzie Tour membership for the 2020 season. Below is a breakdown of the various statuses available this week.
|Exempt for the 2020 season|
|2nd through 14th (no ties)
|Fully exempt for the first six 2020 tournaments and subject to the re-shuffle|
|15th through 40th (plus ties)||Conditionally exempt for the 2020 season|