NANTONG, China—American Brad Gehl has come close to winning on PGA TOUR Latinoamerica, where he has played for the last four years. He has never been able to break through, though. Gehl is looking to change that trend on PGA TOUR Series-China. The Oklahoma State product, in his first season playing in China, opened the Nantong Championship with a bogey-free, 8-under 64 Thursday to take a two-shot lead over Spain’s Samuel Del Val—himself a PGA TOUR Latinoamerica alum—Kevin Techakanokboon and Stephen Lewton. A quartet of players are three shots behind Gehl.
At Nantong Yangtze River Golf Club, Gehl began his day quickly, with birdies on his first two holes. He didn’t make a bogey all day, adding three more front-nine birdies and three additional birdies on his back nine for not only the low round of his PGA TOUR Series-China career but his low round as a professional playing on PGA TOUR-affiliated Tours. Gehl’s previous-low score in China were the two 68s he had in the second and third rounds at the Beijing Championship. He has had three 65s on PGA TOUR Latinoamerica, most recently in the first round of the 2018 Costa Rica Classic (6-under). He also had a 6-under 65 at the 2017 Flor de Cana Open in Nicaragua and a 5-under 65 at the 2017 Roberto De Vicenzo Punta del Este Open in Uruguay.
Gehl was quick to note it was his ball-striking that led to his 64 and the first-round lead. “I just put [the ball] in such an easy position to go ahead and score and be aggressive with putts that it just kind of made the rest easy,” he said.
Del Val has even more PGA TOUR Latinoamerica experience than Gehl, with 64 career starts between 2013 and 2018. He, too, has a pair of runner-up finishes on that circuit plus another on the Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada. The difference is Del Val also has a victory—at the 2016 Argentina Classic.
“I think the course is very straight forward,” Del Val assessed following his seven-birdie, one-bogey day.” Honestly, I played at 6:30 this morning, so things were fresh—at least on the front nine—and there was no wind. [The course] was playing easier.”
Three of Nantong Yangtze River’s four par-5s come in a four-hole stretch (Nos. 9, 10 and 12), and Gehl, Del Val and Techakanokboon all walked away with birdies on those three holes plus at the other par-5—Nos. 4.