Little-name players start fast at Torrey Pines

Little-name players start fast at Torrey Pines
Scott Brown tees off on the ninth hole during the Farmers Insurance Open golf tournament at Torrey Pines. (Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Unless you're a Golf Channel junkie, most of the names at the top of the Farmers Insurance Open leaderboard after the first round Thursday were hardly of the household variety.

Among the top seven, only Bill Horschel, the 2014 FedEx Cup champion, is well established on the PGA Tour.


The others: Scott Brown, Andrew Loupe, Patton Kizzire, Tom Hoge, Rob Oppenheim and Harold Varner III. Pick any of them out from the gallery and you're either a family member, friend or stalker.

Brown, an Augusta, Ga., native whose sole tour victory came in the 2013 Puerto Rico Open, shot the most impressive opening round, recording five birdies on the front nine en route to a six-under-par 66 on the more difficult Torrey Pines South Course.

Loupe, who achieved a rarity — he eagled his first and last holes — matched Brown with a 66, but he was playing the North Course, where the cumulative scores were 2.46 shots lower than the South.

Horschel, Kizzire, Hoge, Oppenheim and Varner each carded 67s on the North.

Predictably, only three of the best 14 rounds were played on the South, and other than Phil Mickelson closing with a birdie to shoot 69 and Dustin Johnson scoring 70 —both on the South — it was an uninspiring day for some of the tournament's biggest stars.

Defending champion and world No. 2 Jason Day managed only 72 on the North while still battling flu. Newly established No. 4 Rickie Fowler scored 73 on the North, while Patrick Reed shot 69 (North) and Justin Rose 71 (South).

Many of the lesser-known players on the tour have fascinating back stories, and few are better this season than Oppenheim's.

After 13 years of grinding on mini-tours and the, he is a rookie on the PGA Tour at the age of 36. And how he finally made it will leave you shaking your head at how luck can sometimes intersect with destiny.

Oppenheim finished 26th on the Tour's regular-season money list in 2015 — one spot short of being among the top 25 who automatically earned their PGA Tour cards for 2015-16. The margin of his miss: $943.

One last chance was afforded during the four-event postseason. After the first 25, the next 25 following the playoffs also get their cards, and though Oppenheim finished strong in the Tour Championship by going 67-67 on the weekend, he checked the computer and thought he was going to be one position shy of the No. 50 spot that would change his life.

Disconsolate, Oppenheim and his wife, Lacey, were on their way home from TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., to Orlando. They stopped for gas. Their phones buzzed. The tour was calling. Oppenheim was in.

Former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover bogeyed his final two holes, allowing Oppenheim to move up to 50th. The margin of his make: $101 — on season earnings of $160,159.

"Amazing how someone else can affect that big of a change in your life," Oppenheim said with a grin and shake of his head after his round Thursday. "I'd be in Panama right now [on the]. I like Panama, but Torrey Pines is better.

"It was just so crazy. It was an emotional roller coaster that last two months of the season."


Raised in Salem, Mass., Oppenheim played at Division II Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., spent about eight seasons on such circuits as the Hooters Tour in the Southeast before finally getting his card in 2010. He played the next six years there, not getting a top-three finish until he won the Air Capital Classic last year.

He has made $689,000 on the triple-A tour, but travel expenses run high, and he said that three years ago, when he had only conditional status, he reached an emotional low when his earnings in a Hooters tournament didn't cover what it cost to be there.

"It's hard being away from your family when you're playing at that level," Oppenheim said.

But, he added, "I love the game, and I couldn't imagine doing anything else. Having a family to support you and keep you positive through all of the ups and down, that's the answer."

When Oppenheim finished his first round at Torrey Pines, he signed his scorecard and began talking to reporters, but was pulled away for a television interview. He eventually returned and marveled, "If you shoot five under on the, you go to the range and hit balls. There's not a whole lot of people around.

The attention, he said, "is probably tougher to get used to than the golf."

Not that he wouldn't like more of it.

"We've got the best places in the world to play golf," Oppenheim said. "Hawaii, Palm Springs, Torrey Pines … it's hard to get any better than that."