Palmer seeks to honor fallen friend with Nelson triumph

A weeklong whirlwind of emotional thoughts and plane trips behind him, Colleyville resident Ryan Palmer found solace Thursday in doing what he does best.

He bagged a bunch of birdies at a PGA Tour event and posted a 5-under-par 65 at the HP Byron Nelson Championship.

By doing so, the former Texas A&M standout moved into contention for a third consecutive year at the Nelson and talked about his desire to honor a fallen friend Sunday at the Four Seasons Resort.

Palmer, 36, has spent much of the past week thinking about Clay Aderholt, his best friend since their childhood days in Amarillo. Palmer served Tuesday as a pallbearer at Aderholt’s funeral in San Antonio, where he handed off a white golf cap bearing the initials “CA” on all four sides to Clay’s widow, Allison. It came with a special inscription for Reid, the couple’s 4-year-old son.

Palmer wore the hat during last week’s final round at The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., to honor Aderholt, 36, who died in a car wreck on the same day Palmer completed a first-round 67 at The Players. Palmer finished fifth in Florida. But after rolling in three putts of 30 feet or longer during a six-birdie, one-bogey round at the TPC Las Colinas, Palmer hopes to raise the stakes this week in Texas.

“We will always remember him,” Palmer said, summing up his emotional, seven-day journey. “Maybe we can honor him even more on Sunday afternoon.”

Based on recent results, Palmer certainly is in the right place. He tied for ninth last year in Irving and finished as the runner-up at the 2011 Nelson, which he lost in a playoff to Keegan Bradley.

Palmer credited much of his success to caddie James Edmondson, who pulled clubs for him throughout tournament week in both years. The duo opted for a fresh approach in 2011 because Palmer arrived at the first tee with a mental block about the TPC layout after six missed cuts and a tie for 73rd in his first seven career visits.

Edmondson, a Fort Worth resident and past club champion at Colonial Country Club, made different decisions in club selection and caused Palmer to rethink his approach to the course. He did it again Thursday. And it worked again. Palmer now has posted opening rounds of 65, 64 and 65 in his past three Nelson appearances and has developed a fondness for the place.

“We did this thing and it carries over each year,” Palmer said. “I’ve been able to keep that feeling. It seems to work here. It’s kind of a strange thing.”

But it’s a successful formula. And Palmer would love to have it carry him across the finish line Sunday, enabling him to honor his longtime companion from their days together at A&M and Amarillo High School.

It is something Palmer has wanted to do since learning that Clay, a bank vice president, perished on impact when his SUV collided with the trailer of an 18-wheeler that jackknifed into oncoming traffic on a wet road. Palmer, a husband and father of two, flew back from Florida after Sunday’s final round, then on to San Antonio to be with Clay’s family and to serve as a pallbearer at Tuesday’s memorial service.

Although his heart has been heavy and he feels sleep-deprived, Palmer said he never considered skipping the Nelson.

“I think it was time for me to get back into the swing of things here,” Palmer said. “I was really slow and calm out there [Thursday], not much expression. I just tried to stay calm, relaxed all morning. I was probably half asleep, too. But I was confident with my swing.”

He was even more effective on the greens, draining birdie putts of 32 feet (No. 5), 31 feet (No. 17) and 30 feet (No. 9) to keep him within five strokes of Bradley, the first-round leader. After Palmer’s final birdie at No. 17, he turned to playing partner John Daly, who posted a 71.

“I giggled a little bit, and I said, ‘I’m sorry.’ Because he was banging it right and left and I was just making every putt,” said Palmer, who hopes his putting prowess is a preview of things to come over the next 54 holes.

“When you can get a low round on Thursday, you give yourself some breathing room,” Palmer said. “It’s nice going into Friday knowing you’re in contention. You don’t think about the cut. You worry about that round of golf and get to thinking about the weekend.”

And when he thinks about the weekend, Palmer thinks about how much he’d like to dedicate a victory to his fallen friend. But, first, he must finish another 54 holes at a place that suddenly is turning into one of his favorite courses on the PGA Tour.

“It’s starting to look better to my eye,” Palmer said. “Obviously, it didn’t look good at all for seven years. Now I can say I love this golf course.”

He’d love it even more Sunday if he could use the 18th green as the backdrop for an emotional, and timely, victory speech.

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