The way Ocean Point Golf Links plays -- and with a short setup for Saturday -- few holes tempted players to pull driver.
J.D. Hoft only hit his driver twice. But the first was a head-scratcher, a decision similar to ones that have haunted him in the past.
The Bluffton resident opted to try the 270-yard carry over the water on the par-4 ninth hole, hoping to hook his ball up close to the green with the right-to-left wind. The risk paid off.
The shot was safe, and Hoft made par. He went on to shoot a 5-under-par 67 and leads after the first round of the Beaufort City Championship at Fripp Island. He leads by three over Beaufort resident Keith Potts, who opened with a 70.
Defending champion Rob Simmons and Beaufort High School golfer Josh Fickes are five shots off the lead after even-par 72s.
For Hoft to hold on, gambles like the one on No. 9 will have to work in his favor. Because as much as he tries to stay patient and make the smart play, he occasionally goes for broke when the round isn't going his way.
"You learn from the mistakes," Hoft said. "Without a doubt, it's cost me in the past."
Hoft probably can't afford to slip much. The names behind him will be waiting. And unlike years past, the final round also will be held at Ocean Point and not its inland neighbor, Ocean Creek.
Those who play well at Ocean Point get it again, albeit a little longer.
Simmons will be among those in the final group. And he's proven he can close. He won the Hilton Head Amateur this month after facing a five-shot deficit with five holes remaining. At a U.S. Amateur sectional qualifier Friday in North Carolina, Simmons was three shots behind entering his final nine holes, but played the next three holes 3-under-par and birdied the final hole to earn medalist honors.
"It's a lot easier to have fun when you have a couple wins under your belt," Simmons said. "I like to think I have the advantage mentally over the people I'm playing against."
Sixteen-year-old Fickes will be part of the final foursome today, after opening with a 72 for the second consecutive year. He said he likes Ocean Point for its more traditional layout and guessed he would need a round in the 60s to have a chance today.
"I've got to get those putts to fall," Fickes said. "There were about six that were right on the edge."
Hoft also hopes his putter cooperates. He said he's not worried about his ball-striking, that he is comfortable in the windy conditions that will probably be present again today.
The decision-making should prove crucial, with the added length for the final round tempting players to hit more drivers and bring trouble into play.
Hoft concedes he might surrender to the uncharacteristic play now and then. He hasn't been one for conventional wisdom in the past.
He picked up the game as a high school junior after a knee injury ended his soccer career. He walked on the golf team at Campbell University but lost his spot after testing the rules of the private, Baptist school in North Carolina.
Hoft said he blew a good opportunity, that he was too immature. He continued to play. Just without the structure.
He likes where his game stands. His round Saturday included six birdies and a bogey.
"It could have been a lot better," Hoft said. "But it could have been a lot worse."
Beaufort City Championship Scores
Saturday, at Ocean Point Golf Links, Fripp Island; par 72
J.D. Hoft 67
Keith Potts 70
Rob Simmons 72
Josh Fickes 72
Jon Verity 72
Reed Weatherford 73
Benji Gecy 75
Joe Bryant 75
Tommy Earl 75
Dan McCormick 75
Phil Weber 75
Brian Rizzo 76
Larry Mathias 76
Matt Johnson 76
Todd Strattan 77
Dennis Robinson 77
Alex Totusek 77
Patrick Mitchell 77
Mike Marusha 78
Belton McCarty 78
Char Cormier 78
Paul Robinson 78
Jeff Pinckney 79
Don Johnson 79
Russ Fickes 80
Todd Stone 81
Marcus Byler 81
Neilo Gifford 81
Shannon Boyles 81
Adam Johnson 82
Kevin Rhatigan 82
Charles Hrabnok 83
George Smith 85
Wayne Wicker 87
Bob Bicknell 87
Bobby Gecy 89
Ernie Taylor 90
Brian Gecy 90
Dave Zanone 90
Bobby Gecy Sr. 91
Brent Cooper 92
Tom Westlake 93
Hayden Cormier 93
Todd Taylor 99
Jim Lathren 100
Lewis Turner 101
Jimmy Boozer 106
Eddie Andrews 106
Today's Tee Times
9:10 a.m.: Matt Johnson, Alex Totusek, Todd Strattan
9:20 a.m.: Brent Cooper, Dave Zanone, Bobby Gecy Sr.
9:30 a.m.: Mike Marusha, Belton McCarty, Larry Mathias
9:40 a.m.: Dan McCormick, Jon Verity, Phil Weber
9:50 a.m.: Ernie Taylor, Jim Lathren, Brian Gecy
10 a.m.: Todd Taylor, Jimmy Boozer, Lewis Turner
10:10 a.m.: Eddie Andrews, Tom Westlake, Hayden Cormier
10:20 a.m.: Bobby Gecy, Bob Bicknell, Wayne Wicker
10:30 a.m.: George Smith, Charles Hrabnok, Kevin Rhatigan
10:40 a.m.: Adam Johnson, Neilo Gifford, Marcus Byler
10:50 a.m.: Todd Stone, Shannon Boyles, Russ Fickes
11 a.m.: Jim Manning, Jeff Pinckney, Don Johnson
11:10 a.m.: Paul Robinson, Char Cormier, Patrick Mitchell
11:20 a.m.: Dennis Robinson, Brian Rizzo, Tommy Earl
11:30 a.m.: Benji Gecy, Joe Bryant, Reed Weatherford
11:40 a.m.: J.D. Hoft, Keith Potts, Rob Simmons, Josh Fickes