T.J. Bordeaux has one thing in mind for the month of August, and that's to play in the U.S. Amateur which starts in less than two weeks in Wisconsin.
Having blown his chance to qualify the easy way not far from home in Tacoma, Wash., the 23-year-old graduate of the University of the Pacific is in Winnipeg for the Canadian Amateur as his "last-ditch" effort to enter.
The winner of this week's championship at Niakwa and Elmhurst receives an invite to the U.S. Amateur and after a sharp first-round six-under 65 on Thursday, Bordeaux's dream is alive.
"I lost that qualifier back home, Eugene, Oregon, in a playoff, so it gave me a little extra incentive to try to come here to win," Bordeaux said after blazing through Niakwa with seven birdies and just one bogey in the afternoon.
"I've been playing well but this is my best round of the summer. I've been hitting it solid and just waiting for a round like this where the putts fell."
Bordeaux's lead is one shot over Pitt Meadow, B.C.'s Justin Shin. Sharing third are Victoria's Cory Renfrew and Oakville, Ont.'s Brian Churchill-Smith, each with four-under 67s. Churchill-Smith's came at Elmhurst.
Among those in a tie for eighth at two-under 69 are defending champ Albin Choi of Toronto and Winnipegger Todd Fanning.
Of the 17 players at two-under or better, only six of those rounds were carded at Elmhurst.
Bordeaux started out his day on Niakwa's back nine. He made the turn in one-under 35 -- saving par on the 18th with a six-foot par putt that rescued a chunked nine-iron from the fairway -- and promptly got to work on the front side.
Five birdies later, he had a five-under 30 for his leading total.
"I didn't hit my driver very good but out here, you can kind of get away with it," he said. "Hit a lot of two-irons and just played smart coming in."
The finance graduate said Thursday he'll be turning pro either after the U.S. Amateur or after this week, if he doesn't win.
"Then I'll figure out what the next steps are, which tour to try to play," he said. "I'm not going to (PGA Tour) Q-school this year.
"It's a little intimidating but you've got to take the step forward. I'm nervous, but excited to get the process underway. Playing amateur golf since 15, it's nice to take the next step and put all your effort into golf."
He'll be at Elmhurst this morning for his second round.
"You've got to play smart there, not defensive but conservative," he said. "It's only one round there, so there's no sense going over there and shooting a big number."
Fanning, the Manitoba Golf Hall of Fame member who has played both the Canadian and Nationwide tours but got his amateur status back in 2008, was uncertain about his chances this week.
"Someone said this was like riding a bike for me, but I said I've got square tires and a rusty chain," he joked before making five birdies and three bogeys at his home course, Niakwa.
He has played enough golf in recent times, but no major competitions since the 2008 Manitoba and Canadian Amateurs. His game is still there, as Thursday proved.
"It was surprising that it kind of (was), but I'd only say mentally," Fanning said. "The shot patterns and the swing are going to be what it is. That's just eight years from not practising.
"But at least my thinking, I was very surprised how clear I was thinking and how it did come back to me mentally. One of the strongest things I did as a pro was that I was good mentally. I could hit it to places when I was in trouble and eliminate big scores."
Fanning said a key for his good start to the national championship was playing on his home track in Round 1.
"I made some smart decisions from some bad positions where I could still get it up and down early in the round," he said. "At both three and four, I drove it in the rough and those pins were very difficult today so I played to the wide side where I had lots of green to chip to and I got it up and down both times.
"At Elmhurst (where he plays this afternoon), that might have been a different story, not knowing where to miss."
Fanning said Niakwa's healthy rough can be risky.
"When you miss the fairways, you're playing defence and I defended well," he said with a smile.
The field of 240 will be cut down to the low 70 and ties after Friday's play, and those who advance will compete at Niakwa on the weekend.