Talk about being your brother’s keeper.
Sam Saunders is definitely taking that adage to heart.
Last week, Saunders won the New Mexico-West Texas Amateur, making him and older brother, Steve, the only siblings to win the event. On Friday, Sam got off to a great start in trying to duplicate the brotherly feat at the Albuquerque Men’s City Amateur Golf Championship. Steve Saunders won the title in 2006.
Sam Saunders, a University of New Mexico rising senior, had back-to-back eagles late in the round and fired an 8-under 64, giving him a one-shot lead after the first day of the 73rd annual event at Los Altos Golf Course.
Nick Geyer shot 65, three-time champion Tim With is at 66 and Ethan Fine and Michael Marquez are both at 68 heading into today’s second round of the 54-hole event at Arroyo del Oso. The final round moves back to Los Altos on Sunday.
Two-time defending champion Patrick Beyhan struggled to a 75.
“It would definitely be great to have both our names on this trophy, too,” Sam Saunders said of him and his brother. “I’ve certainly thought about that. I feel really good about my game, but this field is so strong. There is a lot of golf left.”
Sam has been runner-up twice in the past three years of this tournament, one Steve won in record-setting fashion eight years ago. Steve shot 22 under that year, but had his record broken by Beyhan last year at 23 under.
“I know I don’t have a shot anymore this year, not with this field,” Beyhan said. “I admit, the pressure got to me. Pressure causes nerves, and I didn’t handle it well. But if you’re going to be a great golfer, you have to be able to handle the pressure. It’s just a matter of trying to go out and have some fun now.”
Beyhan, a senior-to-be on the New Mexico State golf team, won the Western Athletic Conference individual title this past season.
Sam Saunders, who will be one of the Lobos’ top players next season, was a teammate of Beyhan and Fine at La Cueva. He was 4 under after three holes on Friday but only played even-par golf for the next 12 holes.
He then drained an 18-foot eagle putt on the par 5 16th and drove the green on the 340-yard par-4 17th. There, he sank a downhill, twisting 8-footer for another eagle.
“I was leaving a lot of putts short in the middle of the round, and nothing much was happening,” he said. “But I didn’t get frustrated. Those eagles were obviously huge.”
In the “do as I say – AND as I do – department,” Geyer gave a lesson in how to play a tournament – something he is used to running. Geyer, the senior director of rules and competitions for the Sun Country Golf Association, is playing in his first tournament in more than two years. He turned pro after graduating from UNM in 2010, but has since regained his amateur status.
“Trying to play professionally didn’t work out as I hoped,” said Geyer, who had to wait two years to regain amateur status.
“I like it a lot better knowing I’m getting a check. I still feel rusty, but I have a job – so that’s what happens,” he said with a laugh. “It just feels great to play competitively again. This is all fun – even the bogeys.”
The 42-year-old With, a former Lobo standout, had a bogey on his second hole before making five birdies in his next six holes. He closed with three straight birdies.
“Realistically, I’d have to shoot north of 10 under during the next two days to win,” said With, who had longtime friend Keith Bandoni as his caddie. “Can I do that? I think I can. But Sam is playing so well right now, that still might not be enough.”
It’s the first time in many years With hasn’t had his wife, Chere’ as his caddie, and for good reason. Chere’ and her parents, Selimo and Kathy Rael, followed much of the round with Chere’ and Tim’s first child, 8-month-old son Ian.
“It makes it even more special playing this year, seeing my son out here,” With said. “It’s something.”
Fine, a 2013 Oklahoma Baptist graduate, had six birdies and two bogeys Friday. Last year, he opened with a 68 as well, but shot an 80 in the second round.
“I’ve got to avoid that this time,” Fine, a 2009 La Cueva grad, said with a laugh. “I feel good about the (Friday’s) round, but Sam is really going to be tough to catch.”
David J. Guajardo, Jason Myers, Justin Aragon and Sean Carlon all share sixth at 70.