One by one, AT&T Byron Nelson frontrunners finished their birdie barrages Thursday at the Four Seasons Resort and stopped to talk.
Many shifted the focus to a peer from Flower Mound who is absent this week but far from forgotten by those competing for a $7.5 million purse at the PGA Tour event.
James Hahn, a Nelson co-leader who posted a bogey-free 64 despite the windy conditions, made it a point to make sure reporters noticed the pin of a Rubik’s cube attached to his cap after a six-birdie round secured his spot atop the leader board with Ricky Barnes.
Barnes, 36, also wore the colorful cube in honor of Jacob Senden, the 13-year-old son of longtime tour veteran John Senden. The elder Senden, a regular at both D-FW tour stops, announced April 29 that he was taking an indefinite leave from tour competition while his son battles a malignant brain tumor.
Thursday marked the first time Senden, 46, has missed an opening round at the Nelson since 2012 and only the second time since 2001. Through their gestures and comments, fellow touring pros made sure to pass along their best wishes to Senden at one of his hometown tour stops and to let him know he is in their thoughts as they make their daily rounds in Irving.
“Yeah, we’re family out here,” Barnes said after an eight-birdie, two-bogey effort. “Fortunately, we’re not like a few other sports where you’re playing against each other. Out here, we’re playing against the golf course. So our heart goes out to him and his family and, obviously, his son. Hopefully, he’ll pull through.”
Hahn, 35, has a 2-year-old son and said the news Senden shared last month stuck an emotional chord with him. Asked how he’d describe his winless 2017 season to this point, Hahn said: “Blessed.”
“I know John … and we definitely keep him in our thoughts and prayers,” Hahn said. “Any time that things like that happen to our community, to our players on tour, you really kind of take things for what it is and [realize] we’re very fortunate to be able to just play and be healthy. There’s a lot of things going on around the tour, people’s health, that is in jeopardy.”
Hahn said he thinks “every day” about Senden, a native of Australia who relocated to D-FW, when interacting with his own son.
Yeah, we’re family out here. Fortunately, we’re not like a few other sports where you’re playing against each other. Out here, we’re playing against the golf course. So our heart goes out to him and his family.
Ricky Barnes, Byron Nelson co-leader, on thoughts about absent peer John Senden, a Flower Mound resident whose son is battling brain cancer
Hahn also applied enough focus to Thursday’s round to find 17 of 18 greens in regulation in arguably the best ball-striking round posted during 25 mph wind gusts. Barnes joined him at 64, two strokes ahead of the next-closest pursuers, with a stellar putting performance on a day when he hit only 4 of 14 fairways off the tee. But eight of his 25 putts found the bottom of the cup for birdies, the most of any player in Thursday’s opening round.
“My distance control was very good,” Barnes said of his approach shots. “That’s what leads to birdies out here. If you get in the right sections of these greens, you can get good looks. I did that well.”
The co-leaders certainly fared better than defending champ Sergio Garcia (73), Colonial champ Jordan Spieth (68) or Dustin Johnson (67), the world’s top-ranked golfer. But none of the Nelson headliners took themselves out of title contention on a day when only 40 of 156 starters broke even-par 70 in the swirling winds.
A four-player group, led by Matt Kuchar and former Texas golfer Jhonattan Vegas, remains two strokes off the pace at 66. The rest of the field has more work to do, although a handful of golfers with Tarrant County connections made their presence felt. The list includes Fort Worth resident J.J. Henry (68), Colleyville resident Greg Chalmers (68), Colleyville resident Chad Campbell (68) and UT Arlington men’s golf coach Stuart Deane, a former touring pro who posted a 70 in his first Nelson appearance since 2014.
It’s nothing that any parent ever wants to go through. It’s really your worst nightmare. … It’s good to see all the guys out here supporting him and we all wish him the best and hope Jacob kicks its butt and gets back to being a regular little kid.
Stuart Deane, longtime Senden friend and UT Arlington men’s golf coach, who is competing at the Nelson
Deane, a fellow Aussie, has known Senden for more than three decades and joined Thursday’s group of golfers sporting pins to show support their support for Jacob Senden in his cancer fight. Deane, like the rest of the professional golf community, was impacted when Senden withdrew from the recent Zurich Classic in New Orleans and released a statement saying Jacob was “undertaking the biggest challenge of his life thus far, having been diagnosed with a brain tumor. … Together, we will stand strong to tackle this disease and look forward to the day when Jacob is cancer free.”
In Deane’s mind, he joined that fight while placing a Rubik’s cube pin on his hat Thursday. It will remain throughout tournament week.
I know John … and we definitely keep him in our thoughts and prayers.
James Hahn, Nelson co-leader, on Senden’s situation
“I’ve known John for 30 years. People care a lot about him,” Deane said. “It’s nothing that any parent ever wants to go through. It’s really your worst nightmare. … It’s good to see all the guys out here supporting him and we all wish him the best and hope Jacob kicks its butt and gets back to being a regular little kid.”
Some things, as the Rubik’s cube pins reminded us Thursday, are more important that how folks divvy up a $7.5 million purse at a PGA Tour event.