First time for everything

GLADSTONE – At the age of 51, Larry Bratonia finally decided to enter his first UPGA Championship. But after the second round at the Gladstone Golf Club, you wouldn’t be able to tell its his first go-around.

On Friday, Bratonia took the lead after he shot a 2-under 70, to give him a total tournament score of 5-under par 139.

It was a roller coaster type of day for the Irish Oaks Golf Course member, as he carded seven birdies and five bogeys, on his way to gaining the lead.

“It was kind of an up-and-down day,” Bratonia said. “I birdied the first couple holes, gave a few back. But overall, not too bad. I felt pretty good.”

Bratonia birdied the par-5 first, and the par-4 second, to start his day. His quick start out of the gates managed to set the tone for the rest of his round.

“If you get the momentum going, it just feels like you can keep making birdies once you make a couple of them.”

For Bratonia, the fact that this year’s UPGA Championship is taking place in Gladstone, played a large part in his decision to enter the event for the first time, ever.

“It’s a big commitment,” Bratonia said about entering the UPGA. “Usually before, you had to start on Tuesday and it went until like Friday, and I didn’t want to take that much time off of work. I just thought being here at Gladstone, it’s kind of my home course.”

After two days, Bratonia has looked right at home. While many of the longer hitters opt for accuracy on the narrow fairways by settling for irons or woods off the tee, Bratonia has been one of the few contenders who has predominantly used driver on his tee shots. So far, the driver has been effective for Bratonia.

“I only hit the ball 260, 270 at the most, so I can keep it in play and just try to make birdies,” Bratonia said. “There’s a few holes I hit 5-wood, but for the most part, I hit driver mostly every hole.

“I played with the same ball both days. I never had any penalty strokes and I never lost a ball, so that helps.”

Pine Grove Country Club’s Jim Markell entered Friday as the leader at 4-under par, after the first round. During his second round, Markell was consistent, but wasn’t able to catch fire on the back nine like he did on Thursday, shooting a 1-over par 73, leaving him in second place at 3-under par 141, for the tournament.

“I hit the ball okay,” Markell said. “I was able to get up-and-down (for par) a few times today. I missed some shorter birdie putts. Overall, I’m happy. I thought coming into the week that even-par would be a good number. To finish the first two days under par, is a bonus.”

Despite losing the lead, Markell still likes where he’s sitting as the final two days approach. HIm and the rest of the field will continue to attempt to position themselves to make a move on Sunday.

“The tournament isn’t really played until the final nine holes, on Sunday,” Markell said. “As long as you can maintain and stay swithin shouting distance on the first three days, anything can happen that last day. And that’s where you really want to play your best golf, is on that last day.”

In third, sits Wawonowin Country Club’s Mark Clements, who shot an even-round score of 72, leaving him at 1-under par for the tournament. Clements played alongside Markell for the first two days of the tournament, allowing Clements to be aware of what he needed to score to be near the top of the leaderboard.

“I was just trying to hang around the leaders somewhat, and see what could happen the last couple days,” Clements said. “I’ve just been kind of scrambling around, for the most part. Just been getting up-and-down when I need to and staying away from the big numbers and the three-putts.”

For the final two days of the tournament, the golfers will be required to play the back blue tees, the rest of the way. The blue’s play at 6,275 yards, while the white’s play at 6,014 yards.

Gladstone Golf Club’s Joe Quinn doesn’t expect to be phased by the tees moving back. In fact, after two days of playing the white tees, he’s looking forward to playing from the blue’s.

“The foursome I usually play with, we play the blue tees all the time,” Quinn said. “I actually feel uncomfortable on the white tees, because I feel like I’m jammed up all the time. I can’t really release the club. Whereas when I get back to the blue tees, I can let it go and I swing a little freer and usually I’ll play a little bit better.”

After shooting a 3-under par 69 on Thursday, Quinn recorded four bogeys and one birdie, to card a 3-over 75. Still, he remains in contention near the top of the leaderboard, as he finds himself in a tie for fourth place at even-par, with Portage Lake’s Jon Bruegeman.

“I putted really well today,” Quinn said. “It just wouldn’t go in the hole. It was lipping out, or leaving it a hair short, or the speed was off just a hair. I left several putts short right in the hole… I hit them where I wanted to, but I just chose the wrong path as to where I needed to be. Tomorrow we’ll right the ship.”

Pine Grove Country Club’s Joe Collard is in fifth at 1-over par, while the Terrace Bluff Golf Club’s Matt Argall is in sixth place at 2-over par. Marquette Golf Club’s Chad Wester and Dennis Hruska are in a three-way tie for seventh with Crystal Lake Golf Club’s Dustin Dishaw at 3-over par, to round out the top 10 scores, to this point.