Hardy leads US Amateur

You’ll excuse Neil Raymond if he doesn’t view The Country Club in quite the same way as many of the Americans teeing it up in the US Amateur this week.

For the 27-year-old Englishman, the course isn’t the place where Justin Leonard sank a 45-foot putt to clinch the 1999 Ryder Cup, it’s the one where ”the US guys (were) running on the green on 17 across Ollie’s line” to celebrate. And Raymond didn’t know much at all about Francis Ouimet’s victory in the 1913 US Open — against two British golf pros — until he arrived in Brookline this week.

”Hearing stories about it, it sounds pretty cool,” Raymond said on Monday after shooting 67 in the first round of the Amateur at the 7,310-yard, par-70 course. ”It’s about as good as my golf memories can have.”

Raymond’s 3-under makes him one of the early favorites for the 113th US Amateur, which consists of two days of stroke play followed by six rounds of match play. Half of the 312 golfers played the first round at The Country Club on Monday; they will switch places on Tuesday with the half that opened up at the Charles River Country Club a few miles away.

Nick Hardy shot a 65 at Charles River to take the first-round lead, and Richy Werenski had a 66, thanks to a double-eagle on the par-5, 558-yard 16th. Three others came in at 3-under at the 6,547-yard, par-70 companion course.

”It feels great to be competing against the best,” Hardy said. ”I’m going to stay aggressive at T.C.C.”

But they still have the more difficult round ahead of them at a course that Raymond called ”scary.”

”If you hang back, you can’t reach some of these holes, and you’re fighting a losing battle,” said Raymond, who won this year’s St. Andrews Links Trophy at the historic Scottish course. ”As soon as I got under par, I was just thinking keep my head, see what I could do.”

It’s the 16th USGA championship and the sixth US Amateur at The Country Club, which also hosted the `99 Ryder Cup, when Leonard’s putt on No. 17 essentially clinched the victory against Jose Maria Olazabal and the Europeans. But no event has had such a hold on golf history as the 1913 US Open, when local caddie Ouimet beat British superstars Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a playoff.