The Silver Lakes assistant from Alexandria shot a 2-over-par 74 at Grayson Valley Country Club and trailed by seven after the first round. He is tied for ninth.
Paul Johnson of Daphne and Blanton Tessin of Shoal Creek both carded 67s to lead the 25-man field by four. The top two qualifiers advance to the nationals Oct. 31-Nov. 3 in Florida.
“It was a little bit of a roller coaster,” Clay said. “I was a little nervous, like any tournament, but I was confident. I was hitting the ball good (and) putting it good. I hit one bad tee shot and one bad hole. If I don’t have that one bad hole, I’m tied for third.”
The bad hole came on the longest par-4 on the short golf course. His tee shot hit a tree and while everyone in the group saw it land they couldn’t find the ball. He played a provisional, hit on the green and then three-putted.
On the positive side, he birdied the four shortest of the five par-5s on the 6,527-yard course.
“That’s what I wanted,” he said. “The one I parred was the one I was OK parring. The rest were reachable. I hit into 18 in two and had a six-footer for eagle. It was the only putt outside six feet I missed all day.
“It’s out there. I could go out there tomorrow and stay away from big numbers I’ll be fine.”
Jordan Evans, the other Silver Lakes assistant in the field, shot 11-over 83 in his first professional tournament. He carded three birdies in the round, but also had four double bogeys.
“I hit three tee shots out of bounds. Take those away, I’m sitting at 77 or so,” he said. “I was a little bit nervous, but once I got to my 10th hole or so I told myself just hit the ball, it’s just golf. Once I did that, I started playing pretty well.
“I played well after I got my act together and got rid of the nerves. Tomorrow I’m going to try to keep it in play, watch the OB line and keep the putts rolling.”
At the top of the leaderboard, Johnson scored six birdies on the front nine of his round and Tessin had six birdies and one bogey altogether.
The event concludes today.
Al Muskewitz covers golf for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.