IF anyone at the first tee Monday for the Nott Autocorp Manitoba men's amateur championship thought Thomas Strandemo was lost, he proved he was anything but before his day was done.
The 18-year-old from Fargo blazed through the opening round in four-under-par 68 to set the pace at Glendale Golf and Country Club, giving him a two-shot advantage over Southwood's Bryce Barr heading for today's second round.
Strandemo is something of an anomaly in these parts. Though the geography is fairly easy, competitive interaction between Manitoba golfers on one side and North Dakota and Minnesota players on the other grows more and more limited these days, especially with the recent demise of the North America Cup (Manitoba-North Dakota) matches.
"A couple of the announcers were just making sure I was from the Fargo in North Dakota," Strandemo laughed of his welcome to the first tee. "I thought that was pretty cool."
The reason he's present this week has plenty to do with his father, Guy, a competitive player in his day who used to visit Winnipeg to play the Manitoba Open.
"The Birchmont (a match-play event in Bemidji this week) is a great tournament but I've never had more fun playing golf than when I came up and played the Manitoba Open and qualifying," Guy Strandemo, his son's caddy this week, said after the round. "And on this course. I told him this was a great course, why don't we go for it?
"We're glad we're here."
Thomas, the 2010 Minnesota junior champion, had not seen Glendale until a walkaround with his father on Sunday night.
Monday began slowly, with a bogey, and he was then three-over after a bogeys at the ninth and 10th.
From there, seven birdies in the final eight holes (Nos. 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17 and 18) made for a back nine of six-under 31 and rocketed him into the first day's lead.
"Three-over after 10 and me and my dad just kind of looked at each other and said we might as well just try to take it deep," Strandemo said. "We just started rattling off birdies and after my chip-in on No. 13, and we just went pedal to the metal from there."
A common refrain among many players Monday was about the quickness of Glendale's greens. It's nothing new about the course but the speed is more the norm at the better clubs in the Fargo area like Strandemo's Oxbow or the Fargo Country Club.
"It might be a little of an advantage," Strandemo said. "The greens are rolling so pure here that the best putters will roll the rock here. They are really, really pure here and really like my home course at Oxbow."
Strandemo, who will attend the University of Louisiana Lafayette this fall after graduating from Fargo Shanley high school, finished tied for 25th in last week's Minnesota Amateur in Hastings.
Earlier this season, he helped Shanley to a second-place finish in the North Dakota state championship.
"I played OK (at Hastings) but it's starting to come around now," Strandemo said. "Now, it's just keep it going, but one shot at a time."
Monday, Barr was also in forward mode on the back nine with a 34 to pull in with his 70.
Three-time former champ Garth Collings of Breezy Bend was in the group at 71 that included Pine Ridge's Ryan Pitzel and Southwood's Teale Merkeley. Collings birdied four of the last five holes to help him offset a pair of early double-bogeys.
Southwood's Charlie Boyechko, at 72, was the only other player to match or better par.
Defending champion and 2011 Manitoba player of the year Jesse Skelton was among those with putter troubles, posting an opening 74 that put him six back and in a tie for seventh.
Thomas Strandemo 37-31--68
Bryce Barr 36-34--70
Garth Collings 38-33--71
Ryan Pitzel 36-35--71
Teale Merkeley 34-37--71
Charlie Boyechko 36-36--72