Zak Griffiths’ homecoming hasn’t gone exactly as planned.
The Red Deer native’s return to the Alberta Open Championship has been a struggle, firing a 6-over-78 on Tuesday to sit at 13-over-par for the tournament.
He, like everyone else is chasing defending champion Riley Fleming, who shot a 6-under-65, to sit at 7-under for the tournament, six shots clear of Scott Stiles in second place.
Stettler’s Troy Butterfield, who golfs out of Alberta Springs, was the top Central Albertan at 10-over-152 (77-75-152) in a tie for ninth.
Wind was the problem on Tuesday, but rain was the issue during the second round on Wednesday at Wolf Creek Links Course.
“The conditions out here, it’s pretty tough and it’s a tough course — I hit some bad shots,” said Griffiths, 21, who was hit hard by a triple bogey on 16.
The six-foot, 175-pound right-hander has spent the last four years golfing in the U.S., first for the University of Nevada for two years, before leaving to start his pro career last season.
Like many young golfers, turning pro has been difficult.
For the first time in his life, he is really on his own and learning to be an adult at the same time.
He now lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., during the winter and near Palm Desert, Calif., in the summer so he can golf year round, but his family is all back in Red Deer and he no longer has the support of a university.
Expenses also creep up, and while on that end he has received a lot of support from his parents and a few Red Deer businessmen, it’s still a tough living to scratch out.
“It is really expensive to get there and to have people behind you who believe in you and support you like that, it really means a lot,” said Griffiths.
He has never had a full-time personal coach, though recently he started picking up swing lessons with Boyd Summerhayes a couple of times month in Arizona.
He is starting to see some results, however, including a second place finish at a Pepsi Tour event at the Club West Golf Club in Phoenix that earned him $1,200. He was one shot back of first place finisher J. T. Hamamoto who earned $2,200. He also competes on the All-American Gateway Tour.
One big improvement has been in his putting game, which used to be his weakest point while being a strong ball striker.
Now he just has to put it all together.
Away from the course, one of the big things he is doing on the side is continuing his education, now taking an online sports psychology course.
“It applies a lot to the golf game, because so much of it what’s going on in your head as opposed to how much skill you have,” said Griffiths.
Once he’s finished with the Alberta Open tonight, he will be flying back to California where he will begin to attempt to qualify for the Web.com Tour Finals in which the top 50 players will earn PGA tour cards.
“It’s just nice playing all of these tournaments in different conditions and just getting ready for it,” he said. “It is expensive, but I’m really confident in my game and I know it’s coming along real good and I’m practicing hard and feeling good for it.”
His goal for the Alberta Open is to just finish as high as possible with one final solid round today, and grab as big a share of the $18,000 pot as he can.
Fleming appears to be a lock for the top prize of $4,000.
He is the only golfer who has been able to solve the adverse weather conditions on both days.
“Through the first five holes, it was incredible, it was pouring, it was cold, it was windy — that’s where a caddy is really important — and I played really well,” he said.
Despite the big lead, the 20-year-old pro from Airdrie is not changing his approach heading into the final round. It’s just not a position he’s used to being in.
“Usually I’m the kind of guy that comes from behind in the final round, so I’m just going to enjoy it and relax,” said Fleming. “There’s a little bit of pressure, but I’m not thinking about it too much. It’s easier being there than it is trailing by a bunch.”
For the full leaderboard for Central Alberta golfers at the Open see Scoreboard