Ultra-talented Lakewood teenager Joe Highsmith did what many thought he could do this week — go low at Tacoma Country and Golf Club, the course he plays almost every day.
The 16-year-old left-hander shot a 7-under-par 65 — his best score ever on his home course — on Wednesday afternoon to grab a big lead at the 90th Washington State Men’s Amateur.
At 8-under 136 through two rounds, Highsmith holds a four-stroke advantage over Kennewick’s Nick Mandell (71) and Puyallup’s Chase Carlson (74) heading into the final round Thursday.
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Gig Harbor’s Ryan Kelly (71) and Richland’s Drew McCullough (72) are tied for fourth, sitting five shots behind at 141.
But even the chasers know tracking down Highsmith will be no easy task, especially given how well the teenager is playing.
“Home-course advantage is big out here,” Mandell said. “But (Thursday), I’d rather chase a guy on his home course with a little more pressure on him.
“I expect him to play well, which should make me play well.”
Highsmith really turned on the jets on the back nine holes Wednesday, starting at the 11th hole.
After hitting his drive into the left fairway bunker, Highsmith planned on laying up — and trying to make birdie at the par 5 from the fairway.
But his caddie — former mini-tour professional Chris Ming — offered a different strategy of hitting a 5-wood out of the trap, which Highsmith did, carrying it near the fringe of the green.
And Highsmith holed a 75-foot chip shot for eagle.
He birdied the next two holes, then the remaining par-5 holes at No. 16 (10-footer from off the fringe) and No. 18 (12-footer) to post a back-nine 31.
His previous best score from the tips at Tacoma Country and Golf Club was 66.
“I have an advantage on the field because I know the course so well,” Highsmith said. “You get to a course and you play a practice round, but you still don’t know it that well. It’s nice, because I get to play out here every day, and I know all the breaks (in the greens). And I’ve hit most of the shots I’ve had to all week.”
Highsmith is continuing his banner summer. He won the AJGA Ryan Moore Junior Championship at RMG Club at Oakbrook in July. And he made it to the round of 32 at the U.S. Junior Amateur at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tennessee.
Last week, Highsmith lost to recent Bainbridge High School graduate and incoming University of Washington golfer Sam Warkentin on the final hole of the WJGA state tournament at Bellingham Golf and Country Club.
“Everything has fallen into place,” Highsmith said. “The last few summers, I’ve had some good tournaments and some bad tournaments. This summer I’ve played consistently well.”
Mandell had gotten to 6 under Wednesday after a birdie at the 11th hole. But he dumped his approach shot into a greenside bunker at No. 12, got it out and three-putted for double bogey.
“Just lazy,” Mandell said. “I started thinking about a low number.”
Carlson came into Wednesday with a three-shot lead, but did not make a birdie until the 16th hole.
“I am not going to lie, I didn’t sleep that great last night, and I don’t know why,” Carlson said. “I am not out of it, for sure.”
The one guy who might be flying under the radar is Kelly, the older brother of PGA Tour golfer Troy Kelly.
With his brother sidelined by injury, Ryan Kelly, 42, has had a chance to play more golf — and practice more consistently.
“This is the first time in 10 years I’ve worked on it,” Kelly said. “And I like the direction my game is going.”
And he made a 50-foot putt for birdie at No. 15, then two-putted for a final birdie at No. 16 to finish under par.
“Obviously with (Troy) being a member, he knows the greens better than I do,” Kelly said. “It is nice to see him feel the stress of caddying — and me getting to hit the shots.”
Sixty-four players made the cut at 8-over 152 or better. Ten of them are Tacoma C&GC members. … Before Highsmith’s low round, the best score from the early wave was a 67 by Bellevue’s Tyler Matthews. He made seven birdies Wednesday. … Reigning Tacoma City Amateur champion Casey Adams shot 73 and easily made the cut at 3-over 147.