By Billy Watkins
One didn’t have to wonder where Hayden Buckley was on the golf course Friday.
“You want to entertain,” said Buckley, the 25-year-old PGA Tour rookie who grew up in Belden and attended Tupelo High School. “At the end of the day, we are entertainers. So it was good to give the people who came out to support me something to cheer for. I think you could hear them everywhere.
“I had a couple of buddies who yelled maybe a little too loud.”
But with good reason. Buckley, who played collegiately at Missouri when no Mississippi schools offered him a scholarship, shot a 7-under 65. He is one stroke off the lead following the second round of the Sanderson Farms Championship at Country Club of Jackson.
In just his second tournament after earning his tour card in early September, Buckley scored eight birdies and just one bogey.
“I think it was huge to start off well,” Buckley said. “We talk about all the time, if I can make a birdie in the first couple of holes, usually my rounds take a different turn than the others. I’m a pretty streaky player.
“We were 2-under after two holes and suddenly we had that ability to go deep. I think that’s something we’ve been searching for.”
Cameron Young is tied with Buckley at 12-under par.
Will Zalatoris, 25, the 2021 Masters runner-up, made 11 birdies and shot 61 to take the lead along with veteran Nick Watney and first-round leader Sahith Theegala.
Watney, who is 50th on the all-time PGA money list with more than $27 million earned, fired a 66.
Newton County native Andy Ogletree, the low amateur in the Masters last April, shot 67 and is four off the lead
For Buckley, it’s good to be back home.
“I went off to school at Missouri and kinda lost connection with a lot of friends and family,” he said. “It’s nice to see all my hard work paying off and for them to see it as well.”
Buckley missed the cut two weeks ago in the season opener (Fortinet Championship).
“Knowing I had this tournament next, I knew we were in a good spot,” he said. “I’ve played this course so many times. Obviously I was a different kid five or six years ago when I played here in high school and amateur golf, but I know this course so well. I grew up on it, I grew up playing it.
“And for the state of Mississippi, you want somebody in the mix. I’m proud it’s me and hopefully some other guys can join me.
“It’s what you dream of — playing at the highest level, the PGA Tour, and playing in your home state, in your own backyard.”
The 6-foot-2, 165-pound Zalatoris is trying to check off his only goal for the 2021-22 season.
“Besides winning a golf tournament, I really don’t have any goals,” he said. “It’s just getting better all around with my game. My iron play has made me a great player, but I’m improving on my weaknesses I have more process goals than results goals.
“But everybody has a goal of wanting to play on a Ryder Cup or President’s Cup team. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a little fire in my belly after watching guys (last week at the Ryder Cup) I grew up with playing as a part of Team USA. Hopefully, down the road, I’ll be a part of that team.”
Zalatoris is quite familiar with one of the guys right behind him on the scoreboard. Zalatoris and Young played together at Wake Forest and shakes his head when discussing Young’s talent.
“We had a kid in for a recruiting visit,” Zalatoris recalled. “Cam caught up with us on No. 4. He literally changed his shoes out of the trunk of his car, then eagled his first hole, chipped in on the next, made a mistake and made par, then I think he chipped in one more time and made a couple of 20-footers. So he made six 3’s in a row. That’s just Cam. Didn’t hit a single ball beforehand, but does that and then it’s like, ‘Let’s go grab dinner.’ “
Some well known players missed the cut: Gary Woodland, Brandt Snedeker, Matthew Wolf, Keegan Bradley and Zach Johnson.
Defending champion Sergio Garcia, who had to be spent after competing in last weekend’s Ryder Cup for the European team, shot back to back rounds of 70 and failed to make the weekend by three shots.
Play continues through Sunday.