For Michael Hyland, who did not play competitive golf the entire 2017 season after going through back surgery, Wednesday's first round of the Golf Association of Philadelphia's Middle-Amateur championship was a nice surprise.
Hyland, 39, a two-time Philadelphia Amateur champion from Little Mill Country Club, fired a 1-under-par 70 to tie Radley Run's Tom Grady for the lead after the opening day of the 36-hole event at Llanerch Country Club in Havertown.
Hyland, who said he was told at age 15 that he had a bad disc in his back, underwent surgery in December 2016, capping a year in which "I couldn't get out of bed." Wednesday was his first round of competitive golf since the 2016 New Jersey State Amateur, he said.
So after carding four birdies and three bogeys at the 6,752-yard Llanerch layout, the Medford, N.J., resident summed up his round in two words: "Totally unexpected." But he added he's a big fan of the course.
"I played really good here in a GAP (team) match two or three weeks ago," he said. "I love this golf course. If I was ever going to join any other golf course across the river, it would be this one. You can hit every shot here. It's always in great shape, great group of members."
Hyland's 3-foot birdie putt at the par-4 seventh – his 16th hole of the day – enabled him to finish under par. He was especially effective with his lag putts, that he had "a lot of 50- to 70-footers and I kept two-putting them. That's crucial here."
Grady, 32, of West Chester, felt the exact same way about the importance of lag putting at Llanerch following his two-birdie, one-bogey round.
"I was really focused on that," he said. "Coming to Llanerch, you have to have that squared away. So I probably practiced that a bit this past week and it really paid off. I really lag-putted well. I've been hitting the ball OK but didn't necessarily expect 1-under out here."
Eddie Johnson, the 2016 club champion at Llanerch, matched par with a 71 to tie DuPont's Matthew Finger one stroke off of the lead in GAP's first major of the season. Scott McNeil of Bala, the 2015 Middle-Am champion, was deadlocked at 72 with Scott McLaughlin of Lu Lu and Thomas Timby Jr., of the Bucks Club.
The field was cut from the original total of 124 to 73 for Thursday's final round. A score of 81 or better was needed to continue.
Tom Grady, Radley Run 37-33—70
Michael Hyland, Little Mill 35-35—70
Eddie Johnson, Llanerch 38-33—71
Matthew Finger, DuPont 36-35—71
Scott McLaughlin, Lu Lu 40-32—72
Scott McNeil, Bala 38-34—72
Thomas Timby Jr., Bucks Club 39-33—72
Bill Jeremiah, Bidermann 38-35—73
Clayton Davidson, West Shore 37-36—73
Stephen Seiden, Llanerch 35-38—73
Gregor Orlando, Phila. Cricket 39-35—74
Kevin McDermott, Llanerch 38-36—74
Michael Brown Jr., Lu Lu 38-37—75
Troy Vannucci, Little Mill 39-36—75
Chris Meares, Running Deer 37-38—75
Ben Feld, Huntingdon Valley 37-38—75
Jeff Osberg, Huntingdon Valley 40-35—75
John Samaha, Old York Road 40-35—75
Michael McDermott, Merion 40-35—75