IT doesn't matter where you start, it's where you finish that counts.
That's the ideology of Ben Bandura, winner of the 2011 edition of the Golf Manitoba Mid-Amateur Championship.
Now, one year later, Bandura began Monday's opening round with his sights set on repeating as champion and maintaining ownership of tournament bragging rights that are -- at the moment -- in risk of expiring at the conclusion of Wednesday's third and final round.
So it wasn't the type of déj vu the 41-year-old Bandura was hoping for as he finished the day with a six-over 78, 11 back of the leader, Breezy Bend's Eric Johnson. His clubmate Justin McDonald fired a 68 and a third Breezy member, Garth Collings, carded 69.
"I never start strong in tournaments and I don't know why," said Bandura after his round at The Meadows at East St. Paul Golf Course. "If you look back at my history in events, I don't start strong. I start weak and then I gain strength as I go through the tournament."
Bandura began last year's event with a dismal first-round 80 and was barely considered a threat to the first-round leaders. But three strong rounds later and the Selkirk product was posing for pictures in the winner's circle, finishing the tournament with a four-round score of eight-over 292.
"You know, you can't get nervous, you can't get rattled. After the first five holes I was two-over and then I had three three-putts. It kind of derailed my round but you've got to stay positive," Bandura said of his round, which consisted of six bogeys and 12 pars. "Last year I was positive after the first round. I said 'I still have three rounds to do it' and I ended up shooting one-under over the next three rounds."
"It's all mental. Last year I was eight or nine shots out of it after the first round. You got to have the mental capacity to play like you're not out of it and get out there and shoot. Tomorrow I go out and shoot 68 I'm right back in it."
But it won't be easy thanks to a new tournament format that sees four rounds shrink to three this year.
Oh, and one more obstacle: the presence of 6-foot-4 Johnson, who shot the lights out with a five-under 67 in his first time competing in the tournament since reaching the age minimum of 25.
"It was a really solid round other than my first tee shot, which I almost lost," said Johnson, a former Manitoba Bison player. "After that I was really solid and didn't make any bogeys and that's what you want to do on this course."
Johnson started off the round with five consecutive pars before hitting stride, recording five birdies on the remaining 13 holes, enough to edge out McDonald's 68.
"I was excited to play in my first Mid-Am today," said Johnson."
The Women's Amateur also kicked off its first of three rounds Monday. Elmhurst's Bri-ann Tokariwski leads the pack with a score of one-over 73, edging out last year's runner-up, Jenna Roadley, by a single stroke.
Round 2 for both the men and women will resume today with the final round being played on Wednesday.
email@example.com Twitter: @jeffkhamilton