Meyer, Edwards own 1-shot leads

Without question, Paducah’s Russ Cochran wanted a better opening round on Saturday at the 84th Annual Irvin Cobb Championships in Edwin J. Paxton Park.

On his sides — defending professional champion and Danville native John B. Williams, all of 25, and two-time professional titlist and Benton native Patrick Newcomb, all of 30 — like a strong wind under his wings.

Instead, Cochran felt like he “drug them down,” after firing a front-nine 40 on his way to an uncharacteristic 75.

“I was really, really happy they played well, because I was a little bit worried that I had thrown them off a little bit starting off,” Cochran said. “They were kind of watching me stumble around a little bit, and sometimes that puts a damper on the day.

“Once they got it going and we started seeing some birdies go, they kind of turned it on, so that was great to see.”

Turned it on is a bit of an understatement.

After a front-nine 34, Newcomb — no stranger to heating up at Paxton Park — fired a back-nine and mistake-free 32, nabbing birdies on No. 11, No. 12, No. 14 and No. 18. With a 66, he opens today in a tie for second place with Louisville’s Stephen Stallings, who owned the clubhouse lead for most of the afternoon after turning in an early 33-33.

Williams, meanwhile, followed up his front-nine 36 with a back-nine 31 to finish at 67 and alone in fourth place — joining professional leader and Wilmore native Fred Meyer (34-31=65) as the only two players to shoot so low coming into the clubhouse.

The former Akron Zips star and defending Kentucky Open champion birdied holes No. 9, No. 13, No. 14 and No. 18, eagled No. 12, and just barely missed a par putt on No. 15 to avoid a subliminal mistake-free stretch.

In a way to Cochran, Saturday’s round felt like the extensive time he’s spent in Jupiter, Florida — long-heralded as the “epicenter of professional golf” — with the swarm of both young guns and old dogs pushing on the many different tours.

“We had some fun (today),” Cochran added. “They were asking questions about different tournaments, and this course (Paxton) and how it used to be, and those kinds of things. And that’s one of the things that I really, really enjoy…

“I think golf is awesome now, because (kids) play as hard as they can play. They’re nice and super respectful, and they’re fun to play with. They can hit all the shots, and I think every generation gets better. Obviously, some great players overlap, but these that play now are just tremendous players.”

Talley belongsMaybe there weren’t any questions that Emma Talley — Princeton native and first-ever woman to play in the Cobb — belonged on the men’s tee box.

If there were, however, they were swiftly silenced, as the former LPGA Rookie of the Year (2018) and University of Alabama Crimson Tide star fired a 1-over 72 to keep herself in contention for a strong finish.

Talley parred eight-straight holes before a tough bogey on No. 9, then started a string of pars again until No. 15 — where she chipped in for eagle and brought her large gallery to a roar.

Bogeys on No. 17 and No. 18 weren’t what she was looking for, but after 18 holes — and some admitted nerves — it’s a round worth remembering.

“I didn’t feel a lot of pressure going into it,” she said. “I was just really excited to break the boundary, and getting to play with guys is amazing. And I hadn’t played a competitive round of golf since February. So, I didn’t think I was going to be nervous. I came out pretty pumped and excited.

“And then, on the first hole, it was like a rush of stress and anxiety, and I had that for about 12 holes. I was very nervous. I can’t tell you the last time I’ve felt that nervous. But my game was really good. Even though my score didn’t show it, I was nervous for 12 holes. I’m excited for (Sunday). I feel like I can maybe play my game and shoot under par. Today was just getting the nerves off.”

At 72, she’s in a logjam tie for 16th with a swathe of talent: Nick Newcomb, Case Cochran, Chris Baker, Gabe Wheeler, Trey Shirley, Michael Rickard, Bradley Farmer and Tyler Phillips.

Can she make up seven shots of ground? Maybe. Maybe not.

But she’s embracing the process and this role of “groundbreaker,” one swing at a time.

“I had a great group today, which made everything a lot easier,” Talley added. “Adam (Gary) and David (Plumb) were so pleasant to be around, and they were definitely so nice. I was lucky to be around a good group. (Paxton professional) Danny (Mullen), I think, did that on purpose just to make it easier on me today.

“But, I am embracing it. And moreso, growing up, I never really had girls to play with. So I’m pretty used to playing with guys, in general.

“But, obviously, it’s so cool … and I hope it gives other kids motivation to break boundaries…because this is breaking boundaries. Playing from the same tees as the men and playing against them and my score counting against them is really cool.”

Ams tightly knitFormer McCracken County star and current Murray State Racers ace Avery Edwards holds the current amateur lead after the first round, firing a 35-33=68 early Saturday morning.

Just behind him? A large and familiar pack, including 2016 amateur champion and current Western Kentucky star Chase Landrum (T2, 69), 2012 amateur champion Josh Rhodes (T5, 71), former McCracken County stars Chase Korte (71) and Drake Stepter (71), two-time defending amateur champion Aaron Ingalls (T5, 71), incoming Murray State freshman and former Marshall County star Tyler Powell (T5, 71), defending Kentucky high school champion and Mississippi State men’s golf commitment Jay Nimmo (T5, 71).

Follow Marlowe on Twitter @dreamarlowe85, call him (270) 575-8661, or email him at emarlowe@paducahsun.com.