A test for any pro – ask Putnam

It will soon open as a stern test for any professional golfer. That is the way Chambers Bay Golf Course in University Place was built.

On Friday, one of Tacoma’s PGA Tour prodigies – Michael Putnam – sampled the region’s finest course for the first time, some six weeks before it opens to the public.

Putnam, the Life Christian Academy product and All-American at Pepperdine, covered the beastly 7,585-yard, par-72 track in his own grand fashion, firing a 2-under-par 70 as the first player to use the championship tees.

He had three birdies, one bogey and walked off with the same sterling opinion of Chambers Bay he had coming into the five-star venue.

“It’s an honor to have me come through here and play it,” Putnam said. “It’s playable for all types of players … and professionals.”

Putnam, a rookie on the PGA Tour, played last week at the Wachovia Championship in Charlotte, N.C. He finished 56th, and he has made the cut in nine of 10 events this season.

This week, Putnam did not make it into the field for The Players Championship in Florida, so he returned to Tacoma, hoping to play the course that is quickly building acclaim as one of the best new courses in the country.

Ken Still, the former PGA and Champions Tour standout from Fircrest, set up a playing group Friday with Pierce County officials and invited Putnam and his father, Dan, to be part of the foursome. Chambers Bay club professional Joe Wysocki IV joined the group.

“I was surprised by the firmness and definition of the fairways,” Still said. “When these greens get faster, you’ll see people make a lot of putts.”

It was only fitting Putnam made a little history on the links-style masterpiece constructed five minutes from his parents’ house. He’s been known to use the jogging trail that runs parallel to the finishing stretch of Chambers Bay’s front nine.

Tee boxes haven’t officially been set up yet, so caddies pointed Putnam to the championship tees.

On the 568-yard, par-5 fourth hole, Putnam had no difficulty getting near the green in two shots, and he two-putted from 40 feet for his first birdie.

His only hiccup came on the ninth hole, a downhill, 227-yard par-3 located near the clubhouse. His 4-iron tee shot landed in the waste area in front of the green, and he did not get up and down for par.

“No. 9 is so fun to watch the ball hit down there,” said a smiling Putnam.

His only missed fairway – at No. 10 – produced the day’s most adventurous approach shot. Putnam’s drive on the narrow, 398-yard par-4 sailed right and into sand covered by fescue grass.

“This will be my first dunes experience,” he said while walking to his ball.

His escape shot from a ledge of loose dirt found the mark, and he escaped with par.

At No. 12, Putnam drove the green on the uphill, 304-yard par-4 on a blind shot from the tee. He two-putted from 120 feet for another birdie.

As if a 521-yard par-4 isn’t daunting enough for even the longest hitters, Putnam climbed to a tee box 20 yards further up, 541 yards away from the cup on the 14th green – a hole that requires a 305-yard carry to hit the fairway.

Putnam did just that, then knocked a 4-iron to the back of the green en route to a par.

He finished up on the 604-yard, par-5 18th by canning a 25-foot birdie putt for his 2-under round. Afterward, he proclaimed he now holds the course record.

“I actually played pretty good today. I only missed a couple shots,” Putnam said. “It’s nice to have that drivable par-4 (No. 12) as a breather.

“I love the last three holes as finishing holes. My favorite hole is the 16th (a 425-yard dogleg right). That tee shot gets into your head … and the second shot, you have to fit into the green.”

By the time he finished reflecting on his round, he spoke glowingly, sounding more like a course promoter than lion tamer, which he was Friday.

“I’d tell people to come and play it, take in the scenery,” Putnam said. “First time, use a caddie, and you’ll be glad you did. It’s very playable.”

Todd Milles: 253-597-8442