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Big Ten’s Charlie Danielson stays with the big boys with a 67 at Riviera

Big Ten’s Charlie Danielson stays with the big boys with a 67 at Riviera

Charlie Danielson takes his second shot on the 13th hole during the opening round of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club.

(Harry How / Getty Images)

Two quick birdies felt good, but not good enough to settle Charlie Danielson’s nerves.

The small-town kid found himself playing beside the big boys on the PGA Tour, feeling jittery, and that fast start soon dissolved into a pair of sloppy bogeys.

Another few holes went by before Danielson remembered something important.

“I’m here to have as much fun as possible,” he said.

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It has been that kind of week for the 22-year-old University of Illinois senior, who earned his way into the Northern Trust Open by winning a college showcase Monday.

By the end of the first round at Riviera Country Club, Danielson had managed to keep the dream alive, making four birdies in his last nine holes to put his name on the leaderboard, tied for fifth with a four-under-par 67.

“It might catch up to me when I get back to the hotel,” he said, lingering outside the clubhouse. “Right now, I’m trying not to think too much.”

The tall, lanky player grew up in the Wisconsin village of Osceola, where the population is just north of 2,500. His local course was only about 6,200 yards long or, as he describes it, “really short.”

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He honed his wedges and developed a reliable putter, winning the state high school championship twice before a successful college career.

Entering his final year, he knew that Illinois would take its highest-ranked player to Riviera for the college event come February. A strong fall earned him the trip, and he put together a three-under 68 on Monday, winning by three strokes.

His parents followed over the Internet; they had just flown back to Wisconsin after watching Danielson’s younger sister, Casey, play for Stanford over the weekend.

“We were watching the scores come in,” said Liz, his mother. “Then we started checking flights.”

Out on the coast, their son was in something of a daze, hitting on the range beside Rory McIlroy, spotting Jordan Spieth in the hotel lobby, sharing an elevator with Adam Scott.

“I would say I was just as nervous for the practice round when all those pros are up there watching you tee off,” he said.

It helped that some of the guys congratulated him, told him that he had earned his way into the field. They told him to enjoy it.

On Thursday, with his parents, a sister and an uncle in attendance, a couple of cousins flying in at the last minute, Danielson started on the 10th hole and finally settled down with a clutch putt on the par-four 15th.

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As a rainy morning gave way to a blue sky, he cut down to a two-thirds swing to control the ball better, then built some momentum with birdies on No. 16 and No. 1.

“My game’s probably not as good as I want it to be,” he said. “I’m just doing a good job of getting the ball in the hole and that’s all that matters.”

Standing near the practice green, dressed in the bright orange of his college team, he chatted with family and signed an autograph for a boy who approached.

“Nothing has really sunk in yet,” he said. “I have to come back out here and play some more.”

david.wharton@latimes.com

Twitter: LATimesWharton


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