|PGA TOUR Canada Q-School|
|1||Austin Hitt (U.S.)||30-32—62 (-10)|
|2||Eric Lilleboe (U.S.)||36-30—66 (-6)|
|3||Anthony Paolucci (U.S.)||35-32—67 (-5)|
|T4||Charles Wang (China)||34-34—68 (-4)|
|T4||Saptak Talwar (India)||34-34—68 (-4)|
|T4||Wei Hsuan Wang (Chinese Taipei)||32-36—68 (-4)|
|T4||Graysen Huff (U.S.)||35-34—69 (-4)|
|T8||Davis Lamb (U.S.)||35-34—69 (-4)|
|T8||Devin Morley (Ireland)||35-34—69 (-4)|
|T8||Johnson Holliday (U.S.)||34-35—69 (-3)|
|T8||Davis Shore (U.S.)||34-35—69 (-3)|
HOWEY-IN-THE-HILLS, Florida — Austin Hitt came out swinging Tuesday in the first round of the PGA TOUR Canada Qualifying event at Mission Inn Resort and Club, breaking the El Campeon course record en route to a 10-under 62. He leads the next-closest competitor Eric Lilleboe, by four strokes. Anthony Paolucci follows closely behind in third, at 5-under 67, while Charles Wang, Saptak Talwar, Wei-Hsuan Wang and Graysen Huff all are tied for fourth, at 4-under 68.
Growing up in nearby Longwood, Florida, Hitt has consistently played well at Howey-in-the-Hills. However, he also knows he can’t get complacent as there’s still a lot more golf to play over the next three days.
“It’s still a pretty uncomfortable course,” Hitt said after his round. “It is for everybody. It’s really tough, but I know it as well as anyone, and it’s just about going out there and executing the shots.”
This time last year, playing as an amateur, Hitt found himself shooting a best-of-the-tournament, 7-under 65 and still just missing the full exemption into the PGA TOUR Canada season, finishing in seventh place.
The suspicion is he’s seeking a bit of redemption here on his home turf.
“I hit the ball really well, and I’ve gotten some things worked out with my coach last week that started to fall into place,” Hitt added. “Living about 45 minutes away, I’ve got a lot of family watching this event.”
The tournament continues with the second round, teeing off Wednesday morning at 6:55 a.m.
Did you know this is Austin Hitt’s third time playing in a PGA TOUR Canada Qualifying Tournament? In 2020, he earned conditional status with his tie for 21st finish, also at Mission Inn Resort and Club’s El Campeon Course. In 2021, he finished seventh, again at Mission Inn. That performance allowed him to play in seven Forme Tour tournaments last summer, the circuit created for PGA TOUR Canada players who couldn’t access Canada because of the global pandemic. In his seven appearances, Hitt made five cuts, with a tie for 18th at the Fuzzy Zoeller Classic at Covered Bridge Golf Club, his top finish. At the end of 2021, Hitt earned PGA TOUR Latinoamerica status by finishing second at—you guessed it—Mission Inn in that Tour’s Qualifying Tournament. In that final event, which was rained out in the fourth round, Davis Shore won the title with a two-stroke lead over Hitt and earned exemption for the entire Latinoamérica 2021-22 season. Shore is currently tied for eighth with a 3-under 69.
How the Tournament Works
There are 106 players in this field. Below is a breakdown of the various PGA TOUR Canada membership statuses available this week.
|Medalist||Exempt membership for the 2022 season|
|2nd through 9th (no ties)
|Exempt through the reshuffle, which will occur approximately halfway through the season|
|10th through 30th (plus ties)||Conditional membership|
- There are 10 amateurs playing this week. Leading the way is Mark Reppe and Spencer Cross, who are both tied at 17 at 1-under 71. Here is how all 10 fared in the first round.
- Players in this week’s field come from 14 different countries and territories. There are six Canadians playing this week: Daniel Core, Linus Lo, Raoul Menard, Ziggy Nathu, Quinn Richardson and Patrick Williams.
- The par-4 seventh hole played as the most-difficult in the opening round. Only five players made birdie, and the stroke average was 4.311. The par-5 14th was the easiest, with six eagles and 50 birdies.
- Eric Lilleboe continued his good play in PGA TOUR Canada Qualifying Tournaments. Lilleboe opened with a 6-under 66 and is tied for second, four strokes behind 18-hole leader Austin Hitt. Outside Tacoma, Washington, last year, Lilleboe was part of a four-way tie for first at the 36-hole mark at The Home Course. With only six playing spots available, Lilleboe stumbled over the last two rounds, firing 72-75 to drop into seventh place, earning only conditional membership status on the Forme Tour. Lilleboe also earned conditional status in 2020 with his tie for 16th at the Dothan, Alabama, Qualifying Tournament, and he missed getting any status in both 2017 and 2018.
- Charles Wang finished ninth at last year’s PGA TOUR Canada Qualifying Tournament at Mission Inn. That was good for conditional status. He closed that tournament with rounds of 67-70-71, and he opened this year’s event with a 4-under 68, making him 12-under at El Campeon over his last four rounds.
- China’s Charles Wang and India’s Saptak Talwar are the top-two international players after the first round. They both shot 68s and are tied for fourth.
- Anthony Paolucci, who opened with a 5-under 67, good for third place by himself, has played in nine previous PGA TOUR Canada tournaments—five in 2016 and four in 2019. His career-best finish was a tie for 35th at the 2016 SIGA Dakota Dunes Open. Paolucci has made 75 PGA TOUR Latinoamerica appearances, with one victory and eight top-10s. His win came in 2016, at the 85th Abierto OSDE del Centro (Center Open). He edged South Korea’s John YoungKim and American Charlie Saxon by four shots.
The Players Talk…
“I’m 34-years-old. I’ve been really close to getting on (PGA TOUR Canada) and was really close to getting on the Forme Tour last year. I’ve been hanging around and really close. (Today,) the putter started to heat up—making 15-, 20- and 30-footers—some putts that went in, that I wasn’t expecting, which got me off to a great start. –Eric Lilleboe
“I got off to a really good start today. Started on No. 10 and made eagle, then I birdied the next three holes after that, so I was 5-under after four. Then there was a lot of pars and a few ups-and-downs. The whole golf course is tight, so you will have to scramble out here at times, but I was able to save par on my back nine.” –Anthony Paolucci
“This is my first time out here. But, I have a lot of buddies—like Davis (Shore)—who have played here, so I have a bit of knowledge from them. It was definitely a learning curve out there, and I just tried to keep it in play. It’s a good start to the week, but there are four rounds of golf, so three more to go.” –Graysen Huff.
“I think it helps when you play well. You want other good players in your same group. You kind of go head-to-head.” – Charles Wang on playing in a group with Saptak Talwar and finding themselves in the lead after the morning round.
“For sure, you want someone else in your group making birdies, so you can feed off of it.” –Saptak Talwar
First-Round Weather: Partly cloudy early followed by increasing clouds, with showers developing later in the day. High of 88. Wind S at 5-10 mph.