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Clover's Ward takes to stage at US Amateur

When Andrew Ward competed in high school matches, there were few people watching him swing who weren't related to him.

Monday morning, he walked into the biggest tournament he had ever played in - and wasn't quite sure what to make of it.

Ward, an 18-year-old from York, shot a 6-over-par 76 in his first round at the U.S. Amateur on Monday. That score was tied for 254th in the field of 315. The top 64 players after today's second round will advance to the match-play portion of the tournament. Last year's cut line was 6 over, meaning Ward will have to play an exceptional round today to advance.

It wasn't the round Ward hoped for, and making five bogeys during his first seven holes got him off to a bad start in his first crack at the country's largest amateur tournament.

"I wouldn't blame it on that," Ward said simply. "But the nerves were there."

Ward was among the final group of golfers to take the course at Wisconsin's Blue Mound Golf and Country Club. By that time, a large crowd had settled in, something he and his family hadn't experienced before.

"This is a big event in every meaning of the word," said his father, Gary Ward, who was part of the crowd following the Clover High graduate. "There were people everywhere.

"You have to remember, here's a kid going from playing in front of his parents to having a gallery for the first time in his life."

Gary Ward could tell his son was feeling a little rubber-legged, watching him poke at his breakfast. But Andrew Ward rarely reveals much emotion when he's playing, so if he was worried, it was hard to tell.

"I didn't eat much breakfast, had a granola bar on the course, that was about it," he said. "I guess I was a little nervous, but at the same time I was working hard to keep everything the same."

The golf itself was not similar to what he's known.

Ward finished third in his qualifying tournament this month, and played well enough as a high schooler to earn a scholarship to play at USC Aiken.

But starting on the 10th hole at Blue Mound, he reeled off three straight bogeys to put himself behind the field before he had warmed up all the way. Pars on the next two holes were a reprieve, before more bogeys on the 15th and 16th. A birdie on the 18th left him 4 over at the turn, but a bogey on the third and a three-putt double-bogey on the fourth ruined what bit of momentum he gained. He birdied the sixth before parring the rest of the round.

"It was definitely a shaky start," he said. "After a few holes, I started hitting some better shots, but then hit another rough stretch on the back side. It wasn't the kind of round I was hoping for, and there are definitely things I can do better."

He'll have plenty of time to prepare, since he doesn't tee off his second round until 3:15 p.m., when he'll play Erin Hills. That's the more difficult of the two courses used for the tournament, checking in at 1,100 yards longer than Blue Mound. The match-play portion of the tournament, which will begin Wednesday, will be played there.

Ward was able to get 14 holes worth of practice Sunday on Erin Hills, knocking off early to attend a players banquet. He drew an afternoon start time, and four hours into his practice round, pulled the plug, saying "I didn't want to wear myself out."

"I'm definitely going to have to play a better round" today, Ward said before heading back to Erin Hills for more practice. "It's a totally different course; much longer, much tougher. You couldn't put two more different courses together.

"I'm just going to hang in and give it what I've got, and we'll see what happens."

If nothing else, the trip has been a bonding experience for the family, with the three of them (including mom Donna) splitting the driving duties in the 14-hour trek from York to the outskirts of Milwaukee. Andrew Ward said he was intrigued by the drive, having never before been through Chicago.

"The drive really wasn't as bad as I thought," Ward said. "Going back will probably be a lot worse ... That's why I want to delay that as much as possible."