CHESTERTON | It doesn’t take a Sand Creek Country Club regular to know that an eagle on the first hole of a three-day tournament is a harbinger of good things.
Though they wear gold for their respective Big Ten Conference teams, the co-leaders of the 37th Northern Amateur have not hoisted a trophy or medal in years.
With the help of scintillating starts to their round on the 10th tee, Robert Bell and Zhong Yang Fu tied for the lead Wednesday at 4-under-par 68 through the first round and are one step closer to breaking some lingering droughts on the links.
Fu, a Purdue junior, was born in Beijing, but his parents live in Toronto, and he went to high school in Florida. Through his time at Purdue he’s learned to handle humidity and fast greens.
That experience showed when he sank a 20-foot putt on the final hole to keep pace with Bell, who finished more than an hour earlier, also with a birdie on Marsh hole No. 9, to complete his round.
"I hope today sets me up for a top 10 (finish) or even a win," Fu said. "From 2009 to now I’ve never won, but I’ve been working hard to win something. I hope I can do it this week."
Fu was 30th at this event last year; Bell 22nd. Neither started strong.
"I played my normal game but had a lucky couple of holes," said Fu, who had three birdies and a bogey to go with his first-hole eagle.
Bell, who’ll be a senior at Minnesota this fall, has been playing golf almost non-stop this summer. He spent Tuesday in Madison, Wis., with friends before heading to Northwest Indiana to stay locally.
Topping a leader board hasn’t been hard; maintaining the lead has.
"I’ve been here before, been close," Bell said. "I like where I stand, but there are still 36 holes left to play."
Bell, a Pierz, Minn., native who teed off with the first group, had an eagle from the bunker on Creek hole No. 1 to start the round, but he came back with bogeys on the next two holes. Four back-nine birdies put him under par and in the lead.
"Golf’s just a game of trying to get better by playing through it," Bell said. "I knew I’d have some tough ones, but my putter really heated up on the back nine."
Twenty-six of the 89 players are in the red as the three-round tournament continues today.
Dublin, Ohio native and Penn State golfer Shane Stewart is one back after carding a 69 at the par-72 course.
Eight players shot 70, and 15 fired 71s.
Players who once called Sand Creek their home course did not have an advantage over the collegian-dominated field.
Chesterton grad Kyle Grassel was even on the back nine and is tied for 45th at 2-over, but the other five local golfers are far behind him.
Crown Point grad and Indiana University's Nick Grubnich is tied for 78th after a 79 that included four bogeys and two double bogeys.