Palmer’s 'Big Game' experience paying off

Posted Thursday, May. 23, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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lebreton That tree, the one that flanks the slope at the back of the No. 4 green, the slope where so many pars go to die?

Ryan Palmer has been there.

The pond that awaits overzealous putts on No. 13? The cart path on the 18th?

Ryan Palmer knows all about that.

He knows Colonial. He knows its greens, its fickle winds and, yes, its champions wall.

A Colleyville resident and a graduate of Texas A&M, Palmer knows enough about Colonial to know that his 8-under 62 on Thursday was something special.

“This is what I dream about when I play here every year,” said the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial’s first-round leader.

“If I get into the four majors, this tournament still will be the most meaningful to me, to be on that wall on the first tee. I dream about that all the time. I can’t tell you what it would mean if it happens.”

Palmer’s 62 matches the lowest ever recorded in the tournament’s opening round.

He first played the tournament in 2004. He quickly became an adopted nephew, of sorts.

They call it The Big Game. Four, maybe five groups. Tee time is 12:30 p.m., each day.

Bring your checkbook.

“So in the off-season, we’re out here a bunch, playing with the guys at 12:30,” Palmer said, explaining the social nuances of The Big Game. “I have so much fun with these guys. They took me in four or five years ago. And they’ve thrown some parties for me when I’ve won.”

Palmer has won three times on the PGA Tour, the last coming in 2010 at the Sony Open in Hawaii.

“They give some guys some honorary memberships here, and I took advantage of that,” Palmer said of the venerable Colonial club. “When I won in 2010, I made it a point to let them know I had joined fully. It was my way of saying thanks.

“I’m proud to be a member of this club.”

He thought his playing experience at Colonial paid off in Thursday’s relatively gust-free round.

It couldn’t have hurt, either, that his longtime friend and caddie, James Edmondson, is also a Colonial member and a three-time club champion.

“Being a member here, we’ve played it so many times, James and I,” Palmer said. “I felt comfortable over every tee shot.

“I’m just comfortable on this golf course, obviously. I think Brian Stuard’s caddie even made a comment about how comfortable I was. Where guys are hitting rescues, I’m hitting drivers, and hitting them as close as I can.”

On a course where players frequently say they have to rummage through every club in the bag, Palmer used his driver 14 times Thursday.

“I don’t even pull out my yardage book except to fill out the scorecard,” Palmer said. “I know everything about the greens.

“I know there are some shots where I could hit one less club than most guys probably think, because I know how it plays, depending on if it’s windy or not. The experience I’ve had here helps, obviously.”

The day’s heaviest drama, as it turned out, came as Palmer approached his final hole of the day, No. 9. His caddie informed him that he still needed one more birdie to tie Edmondson’s course record.

“What do you do when you get that thrown at you?” Palmer said, laughing.

Palmer and Edmondson met in high school at the UIL regionals in Lubbock. Their friendship was rekindled when both played briefly on the Hooters Tour. Edmondson ended his pro career and began carrying Palmer’s bag in 2002.

“It’s pretty special,” Palmer said. “We are close. His daughter is three weeks younger than my son, and they’re like brother and sister. Our wives are close.”

There aren’t many caddies, Palmer was reminded, who can tease their pro about breaking their course record.

“I don’t know how many guys’ caddies have won the club championship at the course they’re playing, either,” Palmer said.

In nine previous appearances at the Crowne Plaza Colonial, Palmer’s only top-10 finish was a tie for fifth one year ago.

In his dream, he said, that all changes. In his dream, his name gets chiseled onto the Wall of Champions beside the names of Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and all the men who’ve won.

Of course, he knows where to find the wall.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton

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