Brandon Stone believes his past struggles at the US PGA Championship played a big part in him firing his lowest Major Championship round on day one at Bellerive Country Club.
The South African had played six Majors before this week, making three cuts with a best finish of a tie for 35th at last season’s US Open, but his record in the season’s final Major left a lot to be desired.
He finished outside the top 140 at both Baltusrol and Quail Hollow but found his groove in St Louis, signing for a 66 that was the best opening round at this event by a South African since Ernie Els carded the same score in 2004.
That left him two shots off the lead held by American Gary Woodland and the 25-year-old believes more experience – including a Rolex Series victory at the Scottish Open – has helped him make a Major breakthrough.
‘I think Quail Hollow chewed me up and spit me out quite quickly last year,’ he said. ‘But it’s all experience, it’s all being a part of this atmosphere and being with the spectators, how incredible they are, and there’s just so many people out here today. It’s not something we’re typically used to.
‘Having those two past previous experiences at the PGA Championship really built on that and I really engaged with the fans out there today. It kind of kept me at ease, kept me nice and loose. It seems to have worked.
“‘You can’t coach someone to behave and focus in this atmosphere. It’s 105 degrees out there with 35,000 people walking around you. So you can’t exactly coach someone how to do that, having had the previous experience at Baltusrol and Quail Hollow really helped.’
A long putt on the first got Stone off to the perfect start and he also took advantage of the eighth before hitting a stunning apppraoch into the 14th.
A bogey on the 15th threatened to derail the 25 year old but he holed a 30-foot left-to-righter on the 16th and then made a putt from the fringe on the next.
‘I got the ball in the hole as well as I could possibly do, hit it really well,’ he said. ‘The rhythm was spectacular and the swing. I just putted beautifully, rolled the ball so nicely, managed to see a lot of the lines quite easily out there today.
’66 on a Thursday of the US PGA, if you had told me that a month ago, I would have said you’re kind of smoking something.’
Credit: European Tour