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Golf: Local pro Church back in La. Open

BROUSSARD – David Church shot a two-under 69 Monday during the Chitimacha Louisiana Open’s first pro-am tournament.

Depending on your point of view, that’s either an accomplishment or an expected occurrence.

Casual observers figure that the head pro at the tournament’s Le Triomphe home course would have the benefit of local knowledge when the $525,000 Nationwide Tour tournament kicks off Thursday. The local fans, especially the Le Triomphe membership, expect him to do well, and Monday’s 69 – from the back tees on every hole – only reaffirmed those expectations.

Church knows differently.

"The course this week is a lot different from the everyday course that we play the rest of the year," said Church, who qualified for a spot in the Louisiana Open field courtesy of winning the Gulf States PGA closed qualifying tournament. "The course is perfect, but it’s very different when you play the Tour setup."

Friends and followers, of course, don’t want to hear that. They want to hear how he’s going to throw up low numbers all four days on his 7,069-yard home course, and a lot of them will be in his gallery Thursday for his opening round.

Church, for his part, has a goal to still be playing on the weekend.

"Making the cut would be the first step for me," Church said after Monday’s Dwight Andrus Insurance Pro-Am. "There’s some pressure because everyone in the club expects a lot, but I have realistic expectations of going out and being competitive. I’m honored to have qualified and have the chance to test my game on the second-best tour in the world."

Church won the Gulf States event, held in February at Le Triomphe, with a two-over 74 (the course played at par 72 there, but is a par 71 for the Open). That score is deceiving, though, since winds clocked at a consistent 38 mph and gusting even higher made the event a battle of wills. Only one other player broke 80, and that was a 79.

"That was a good ball-striking round for me," Church said. "The last couple of rounds I’ve played have been good ball striking rounds, and I had a good putting day today. If I can make a few putts…."

This isn’t the first time that Church has been in the Open field. He earned a coveted spot in 2004 when he was the Gulf States PGA Player of the Year (three spots in the field are reserved for Gulf States PGA qualifiers), but struggled in the opening round with an 82 to put himself out of contention to play over the weekend.

Still, he came back with a two-under 70 in the second round, and says he’ll use that experience when he tees it up Thursday.

"You’re only as good as your last round," he said. "Right now, I know I can be competitive with a lot of club pros throughout the South, but it’s all about levels. You don’t just decide one day that you’re going to become a touring pro. People don’t just quit their jobs and go play pro golf. It takes years of preparation physically and mentally, learning course management and getting used to the travel and planning a schedule. It’s definitely not easy. It’s a maturation process."

And all the local knowledge doesn’t help much when the course plays completely differently than in the other 51 weeks of the year.

"The fairways and greens are so much firmer," he said. "It’s the quantity of how we do things. We normally roll the greens and mow every other day during the growing season, but we’ve double-rolled the greens every day and mowing and double-cutting the fairways every day.

"It makes it play a lot differently. To see a 330 or 340-yard drive is not out of the picture this week, but you’re also playing on rock-hard, tight fairways. Because the ball’s going further, you have to adjust some of your lines and change some approaches because where a 6-iron may stop on our regular greens, it may skip a little more here. It’s not wondering what club to hit, but how that club will react."

Because of that, today’s practice round may be more valuable to Church than it is for most of the Nationwide Tour field.

"You have to take advantage of the practice round," he said. "You have to think better all the way around the course. You don’t change what got you here, but I know I’m going to be taking some notes on whether to aim a little further left or right than normal."