“It just tickles me to have the opportunity,” he said.
The 56-year-old former player of the year enjoyed one of his best competitive rounds in recent memory Saturday, making seven birdies and posting a 5-under-par 67 to grab the first-round lead in the Calhoun County Golf Tour’s Silver Lakes Championship.
Wilborn was a consistent as ever on the 6,310-yard course. He hit 12 of 14 fairways, 16 greens and had 29 putts. He birdied six of his last 12 holes and played the Heartbreaker back nine in bogey-free 32.
It was strong enough to give him a one-shot lead over Jacksonville State assistant golf coach Cullen Carstens and a two-shot cushion over reigning County player of the year Gary Wigington and former Silver Lakes assistant Adam Swan.
Former Southside golf coach Jake Nichols was another shot back at 70.
“They’ve got the course set up to where you drive the ball good and you get a wedge in your hands (you can score),” Wilborn said. “I converted some putts. If I play good tomorrow, good. It’s not like I’ve got the bit in my mouth and I’m going out there to kick some butt, because I know better. I’m just enjoying it.”
A lot has changed around Wilborn’s game since he won the inaugural Calhoun County Best of the Best Player of the Year Award in 2007 with one win – here -- and two seconds in five tournaments.
He can’t remember the last time he won an individual tournament of significance. He has been in the final group several times in recent years, but just not been able to close the deal.
“Oh, I’m way down the road from there,” he said. “There’s been a lot of good players come through the county since then. I’m 56. I feel like I still have a competitive bone, but I’m not there hitting buckets of balls that you’ve got to do to forward your game. But it’s fun.
“Obviously, it would be cool to (post another low round today), but I don’t have any high expectations. I’d love to be able to but if I don’t I’m not going to worry about it. Getting to this age, I should be more happy to be able to still go out and shoot a score like that as to not.”
For the next two players he passed on the leader board, their rounds were a testament to the management of their emotions.
Carstens, a 28-year-old St. Louis native, made a double bogey on his first hole of the day, but didn’t let it get him down. He birdied the next hole, turned in 2 over, then played the back nine in a career-best 30 to temporarily grab the lead.
He birdied Nos. 10, 11, 12, 13, 15 and 16.
“I’d been recruiting the last four days, so I hadn’t gotten to practice, so this was a bit of a surprise, to say the least,” he said. “I was telling a buddy of mine, since I was gone all last year (caddying for Peter Uihlein on the European Challenge Tour), this is like the first amateur tournament I’ve played in a couple years, and he said let me know if you break 85. I said all right. It was one of those good days.
“I was fortunate to just kind of shake (the first hole) off. So often we focus on telling our girls and guys the importance of one bad hole is just one bad hole. All that really matters in golf is the next shot you’re getting ready to hit, so I just kind of thought about that because that was exactly what I would tell one of our players if they were to start with a hole they didn’t like.”
For Wigington, the challenge was to keep from getting too far ahead of himself after starting with birdies on four of his first five holes. He birdied 1, 2, 3 and 5 the last three all coming from inside five feet. He had a 20-footer on 4.
His momentum stalled with a bogey on the short par-4 seventh, but he recovered the shot with a birdie on the par-5 10th.
“I was thinking I had a real good chance to shoot a really good number today,” Wigington said.
But he kept himself in the moment by sticking to his well-proven approach of just trying to make one birdie every three holes.
“I’ve been in situations where you think about it and it doesn’t materialize,” he said. “If you don’t think about one shot at a time and you start thinking about a number at the end of the day anything can happen, so
I just think about one hole at a time.”
Swan, who worked at Silver Lakes until 2010 and now teaches music in an
Atlanta high school, said “everything worked” to produce his round. He had five birdies and was 5-under through 13 holes.
If he were to pull through a win today he said it would “pretty spectacular -- a good day in my life.”
Nichols bounced back from a double bogey at No. 3 to get his round to 4-under through 12 holes. The comeback included a chip-in birdie at No. 6 and six-inch tap-ins at Nos. 9 and 12.
Al Muskewitz covers golf for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.