Richard James of Wales boosted his lead to three strokes at the halfway point of the South Beach International Amateur golf tournament on Saturday by shooting a 4-under-par-66 at Normandy Shores Golf Club after posting a 6-under 65 at Miami Beach Golf Club on Friday.
James’ 10-under-131 total for two rounds puts him three shots ahead of Gabriel Lench, a high school senior at Lake Mary in Central Florida.
James, 23, is no stranger to Florida courses and golf because he played collegiately at the University of South Florida.
Neither is Lench, 17, who led his Lake Mary High School team to the Class 3A state title earlier this year.
A victory in the South Beach tournament, the 14th-ranked amateur event in the world, would be a big boost to either James or Lench.
“This is probably the biggest tournament I’ve ever played,” Lench said. “I saw the field for this tournament and really wanted to play in it because the players are so strong.”
Does Lench think he can catch James? He certainly is not ruling it out with two more rounds to be played, both at Miami Beach.
“I’m just going to show up and do what I’ve been doing,” said Lench, who posted a round of 68 on opening day at Normandy Shores and came back with a 64 Saturday at Miami Beach.
Lench won the Florida Amateur earlier in 2014, and that victory provided him with confidence that has been evident ever since.
“I knew the success had to come at some time,” Lench said. “The Florida Amateur victory helped the process.”
Lench, who plans to attend Liberty College in Lynchburg, Virginia, started playing golf when he was a 2-year-old and has had one constant companion guiding him on the course. That would be his father, Rafael, who often caddies for his son and has been Gabriel’s only coach.
“He knows everything about my game,” Gabriel said, “and he knows so much about the game of golf it really works to my benefit.”
Two other players who could be a factor in the tournament are tied for third at 6-under 135.
Barry University’s Adam Svensson shot 68-67, and Ben Griffin, a University of North Carolina player, put together rounds of 65-70.
Brandon Matthews, a Temple University player, shot six strokes worse than he did in his opening round, but he still managed to cling to a one-shot advantage after two rounds in the Dixie Amateur, which is being played at Heron Bay Golf Club in Coral Springs.
Matthews’ first two rounds were 66-72 for a 6-under total of 138.
A stroke back in second was Anthony Gabriele at 70-69 — 139.
Drew Czuchry (67-73 — 140) is in third, and Maxence De Craecker (69-72 — 141) is in fourth.