Until this week, journeyman Chad Ramey had never before played the Stadium Course at the TPC Sawgrass but certainly found it to his liking, carding a error-free eight-under 64 to snatch the first round clubhouse lead at the Players Championship.
The 30-year-old, who has made the cut in just five of 14 starts this season and a lowly 225 in the world rankings, was the surprise package of opening day, collecting eight birdies, evenly split between the front and back nine.
Ramey took a one shot lead over twice major winner Collin Morikawa, with Canadian Taylor Pendrith and American Ben Griffin a further shot adrift, while Justin Suh was five under through 15 holes when play was suspended due to darkness.
“Not easy. Not easy at all,” said Ramey, among the early starters at Ponte Vedra Beach. “I might have made it look that way, but it wasn’t easy at all.
“It was fun, first time to shoot a score on such an iconic course like this.
“You can’t ask for any more.”
With a single title on his resume, coming last season at Corales Puntacana Championship, and winnings of $1.6 million, Ramey will almost triple his career earnings if he can remain on top until after Sunday and walk away with one of the PGA Tour’s biggest pay days - a whopping $4.5 million.
Ramey admitted to a few nerves but kept his composure on a day when many of the game’s biggest names struggled, including four-time major winner Rory McIlroy who returned a sloppy four-over 76.
Those nerves are sure to be put to the test on Friday when Ramey can expect favourites like world number one Jon Rahm and Masters champion Scottie Scheffler to mount charges.
“I believe I can beat them,” said Ramey, who welcomed his first child last week. “There’s always nerves, but it’s just that they don’t mean anything,” said Ramey. “It kind of means you care. You’ve just got to deal with them.
“That’s why we play the game. It’s why we’re here is to have those nerves.
“Just kind of push past them, push them aside, and just do what you’ve got to do.”
One of Ramey’s birdies came on one of golf’s all-time great knee-knockers, the par three 17th, and it’s infamous island green.
With the usual baying crowd gathering around the watery graveyard, Ramey coolly stepped up and put his tee shot just over a foot from the cup for a relaxed birdie.
“The first time I stepped foot on this course was Monday,” said Ramey, when asked about the 17th. “It’s probably about like I thought it would be.”