Cameron Young’s memories of his youth give him a good vibe at Bay Hill

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ORLANDO — Cameron Young has a soft spot for Orlando, and for its famed Bay Hill Club course. As a New York native, Young’s father, David, the pro at Sleepy Hollow Country Club for 20 years, took the family out of the northeast during winters when their golf-obsessed son was a teenager. The Youngs lived and played at Orange Tree Golf Club, but David often take took his boy to the site of the Arnold Palmer Invitational that was only 10 minutes west.

“I played here [at Bay Hill] probably every other year for the bunch of years we were down here as a kid,” Young said Thursday at the $20 million designated PGA Tour event. “So I was familiar with it.”

Familiar, indeed. Young put together a nice round of five-under-par 67 Thursday at Bay Hill to sit just two behind first-round clubhouse leader Jon Rahm. The World No. 1 went four under through his last three holes to shoot 65, topping the leaderboard at seven under par. Young was tied for second at five under alongside last week’s Honda Classic winner, Chris Kirk, and Kurt Kitayama (through 14 holes), Jordan Spieth, England’s Aaron Rai, defending champion Scottie Scheffler and Adam Schenk (68) were at four under.

What was unfamiliar for Young was the hefty rough and firm greens that make Bay Hill play like a U.S. Open.

“[My trips here were] 10 years ago … the golf course in tournament shape I think is a different animal when the rough gets like this and the green gets firm,” Young said. “So it’s still learning every time you come here.”

The greens didn’t seem to trouble Young on Day One. The 25-year-old needed just 26 putts, which compensated for hitting just eight of 14 fairways and 12 greens. Young scrambled well on the four of the six times he missed the green to keep the bogeys on his card to just two. He made five birdies, as well as a chip-in eagle at the par-5 12th.

“I think I was really happy with the way I put a round together,” Young said. “I hit a bunch of good shots as well, but I was definitely in some tricky places and made the best of what I had. Any time you break par [at Bay Hill] you’re doing okay. I just felt every time I had a chance to make birdie I did.”

Bay Hill is also a happy place for Young, given it’s where his career really began to take flight in his rookie campaign last year. In his debut here, Young tied for 13th, which elevated his world ranking high enough to assure him an invitation into his first Masters.

Although he missed the cut at Augusta, Young hit a run of form that would see him be selected as the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 2022. He would add a further three runner-up finishes to the two he had before last year’s Palmer event, one of those being a solo second to Cameron Smith at the Open Championship at St. Andrews.

“I feel like I did play really nicely [at Bay Hill] last year; right about this time last year is when stuff was coming at me pretty fast,’’ Young said. “It was only a few weeks before this that I really assured myself a place in the Players, which is a huge deal your first year. Then to get into Augusta is a huge bonus. I think I kind of let it come to me a little bit last year, which is a hard thing to do.”

Young also finished third twice last year, one of those being at the PGA Championship, where he missed out on a playoff eventually won by Justin Thomas. Young is still seeking his first PGA Tour win, but it’s not his focus. Not after just one round at Bay Hill, before a Friday afternoon tee time when the forecast predicts winds up to 30 mph and temperatures in the low 90s.

“I think there is some emphasis put on me trying to win for the first time, which of course I am,” he said. “But I think, for me, I have to look at it as I could win a golf tournament this year and not necessarily be any better than last year. I don’t know if it is a mark of improvement for me in that sense. I think, obviously, you have to play some tremendous golf to win out here and I played some tremendous golf last year. I just happened to get beat by one guy a few times.’’

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