Scot Stuart Easton tamed the Jubilee Course by refusing to be tempted to take it on as the best amateurs in Europe took apart the toughest course in St Andrews on the first day of the Links Trophy.
Easton’s six-under 66 would be good enough to lead most years the third and reputedly hardest course at St Andrews is in play in the annual tournament for elite amateurs, but he was one of five players sharing third two strokes behind the leaders, England’s Thomas Plumb and Matty Lamb.
The 23-year-old from Irvine is well-placed going into the second round of his third attempt at the Links Trophy, having carefully planned and plotted a plan of attack.
“I’m using the same caddie, John Paisley, as I did last year because we worked together well then and it’s great to get a different pair of eyes,” said Easton, who finished in a tie for 19th last year.
“We spent yesterday walking the Old Course to just get our plans sorted for that, and the plan today was to not take on the par fives on the Jubilee but just try and get my yardages and make good swings.”
Easton reached only one of four long holes at the Jubilee in two but picked up a birdie at all four, getting up and down from short of the green at the three others. Birdie at the 15th and the feared 16th got him home in 66.
Easton – who has had the samecoach, Scott Garrett, since he was 12 – has just graduated from a four year course in business and sports management at Western Kentucky University about an hour north of Nashville and plans to play as a full-time amateur the next two years before thinking about the pro game.
“I’m playing pretty well at the moment but I’m giving myself plenty time,” he said. “I might try Tour School as an amateur this year just to have a look, but the plan is to play two years.”
Lamb, who broke Justin Rose’s long-standing scoring record to win the Hampshire Hog earlier this year, had nine birdies for his 64 to stake the early lead from the second group of the day, taking advantage of the earlier calm before the wind got up.
The former England Boys captain from Hexham isn’t one of the GB&I Walker Cup squad being assembled for the matches at Hoylake last this year, but Thomas Plumb is and the 20-year-old from Yeovil impressed selectors by compiling his 64 in the trickier winds and gathering gloom of the afternoon.
Plumb’s five-under 31 into the wind on the backward nine was especially impressive as usually the plan for the homeward half on “the Jube” is hanging on to whatever profit is gained on the first nine.
Easton is one of five two strokes back, with Ireland’s Rowan Lester, Callum Farr from Northamptonshire, Dane Alexander Frances and Australia’s Kyle Michel.
The best placed home player was the New Club’s Ben Caton, who scorched the outward half in 30 with five birdies in a row from the second, and came back dropping just one to the card for his 67.
Scottish matchplay champion Euan McIntosh, trying to make the Walker Cup team at age 50 and in the training squad, got a real card-saver on the 18th, holing out from 200 yards with a six-iron for an eagle two that lifted him to a final 69.
The international field play the first of three rounds on the Old Course today.