MacDonald leads early in AZ Stroke Play

As always seems to be the case when it comes to the Arizona State Stroke Play Championship, the top of the leader board had a heavy influence of players from Hamilton High School in Chandler, including the defending champ, Peter Koo.

At least that was the case after Thursday’s opening round on the TPC Scottsdale’s Champions Course, where Goodyear’s Gerry MacDonald set the pace with a 2-under-par 68 and Scottsdale’s Michael Wog and Derek Laporte of Tucson were a shot back at 69.
In close pursuit with 70s were Koo and his teammate at Hamilton High, Aaron Wong, as well as AGA veteran Adam Walicki of Scottsdale. Arizona State freshman Brandon Cloete also was at 70.

Others at the top of the 144-player heap included Scottsdale Pinnacle senior Zach Wright, ASU freshman Cameron Palmer and Scottsdale’s Trey Martin, all at 71. Two other Hamilton High players, Nathan Wong, Aaron’s twin brother, and Jino Sohn, a 15-year-old freshman, were at 72.

Koo, who last year became the youngest player ever to win one of the AGA’s major championships at age 15, had an interesting day, as he opened with an eagle and closed with a birdie. In between he holed one other birdie to offset four bogeys.

“It’s been a little rough lately,’’ said the now-16-year-old sophomore of the current state of his game.

“Last week at the Heather Farr (Classic at Longbow Golf Club in Mesa), I had a really big swing issue and missed the cut. But it’s been better this week as I’ve been able to take (my swing) from the range to the course.’’

The only problem now, Koo added, is his putting has been shaky.

“These greens are a little grainy, and when they get like that, I tend to miss short putts. That was the issue today,’’ he added.

Still, being the defending champ at such a prestigious tournament at such a young age was not lost on Koo.

“I’m really honored,’’ he said. “You don’t get to be the defending champ very often, so I’m really going to enjoy this week no matter what happens.’’

For the record, former Huskies have won the last five AZ Stroke Play titles, with Andrew Yun (2007, 2009) and Chan Kim (2008, 2010) sharing the honors with Koo.

This 72-hole chase cuts to the low 60 players and ties after today’s second round, with the final round slated for Sunday.