Christian Brand has learned one thing in his first days as a pro golfer: Go low or go home.
In a broiling first round at the West Virginia Open, he went low.
Brand shot a 5-under-par 66 Wednesday to take the lead in the 54-hole event at Edgewood Country Club in Sissonville. The 2011 West Virginia Amateur champion leads Craig Berner, Edgewood's head pro, and Hurricane dentist Sam O'Dell by a single shot.
The Capital High and Marshall graduate finished strong, even with a finishing bogey on No. 9 (he teed off on No. 10). He had four birdies on that par-34 front nine, giving him the field's only 31.
Brand started his day with a workmanlike 35 on the par-37 back nine, with seven pars and birdies on the par-5 16th and 18th.
"You've got to learn to shoot low numbers and make birdies. I'm getting a lot closer," Brand said. "There are a lot of things I would like to fix about my round, but there were a lot of positive things that I'll look on for [today]."
Berner, the 2005 champion, overcame a 70-yard top on his first tee shot, salvaging the first of his 13 pars. He was paired with 2001 champ Jonathan Clark, and both agreed the grouping benefitted each other.
Even if it didn't, there wasn't a dull moment.
"It's easier to focus with him," Berner said of Clark. "We like to talk trash with each other. It was easy. We had a good time."
Berner finished his round with a 12-foot birdie putt, downhill off the fringe. Like Brand, he was 3 under on Edgewood's four par 5s, three of them situated in the final five holes.
O'Dell was the low scorer of those unfortunate to start in the afternoon. Those 60 players trudged through a full round of the heat, which came without an iota of wind.
Tied for second at the 2011 State Am and the fifth-best amateur at last year's Open, O'Dell ground out his 67 despite the heat and other adversity.
"I didn't drive the ball well at all today, to be honest," he said. "But it seemed when I got up around the greens, every time I got it up and down. I putted really well today.