Bruce Walters II walked off the 18th green at Kearney Hill Links Tuesday afternoon flashing a big smile that had little to do with the 4-under-par 68 that gave him a share of the first-round lead in the 100th Appalachian Wireless Kentucky State Amateur.
Walters was simply expressing his appreciation and happiness about playing competitive golf again.
"I'm just glad to be out here," said Walters, a 36-year-old Pikeville car dealer. "I was laying over there in the (Markey Cancer Center) this time last year."
Fighting for your life will forever put birdies and bogeys in a different light.
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Walters was diagnosed with leukemia April 19, 2010. Two days later, he went into respiratory failure and spent 13 days on a ventilator as he began chemotherapy.
He spent almost a month in the Markey Cancer Center, and continued chemo treatments until late summer.
Walters slowly regained his strength and played a little golf on a winter trip to Florida with his dad Bruce, an inveterate golfer.
Coming into the State Am — his first tournament in more than a year — Walters had "absolutely no expectations at all. I would've laughed if you'd said I'd make the cut."
But he found magic on the back nine, stringing together birdies at the 13th, 14th and 15th. "That kind of made my round," said Walters, who capped his day with a birdie at the 18th.
He admitted that during his trip around Kearney, he reflected on all he went through last year.
"It puts everything in perspective. You don't get as uptight about things."
Walters, who was exempted into the State Am thanks to his 2005 state mid-amateur title, doesn't expect to stay atop the leader board.
"I was laughing coming up the last hole, and somebody asked me how I was doing. I said I was 3-under, but I still could shoot 88 tomorrow.
"It wouldn't surprise me, and, nah, it wouldn't bother me at all."
Walters shares the lead with Patrick Newcomb, who had six birdies on his way to a 68. Newcomb played on Marshall County's 2007 state title team and is now at Murray State, where he won two tournaments last fall.
He had a good day at Kearney, scrambling for some pars and taking advantage of "a few holes where you can hit driver and a little wedge."
Chris Morris, a recent Centre College graduate, and Mads Kristensen, a junior at the University of Kentucky, opened with 69s.
Morris won the last two events he's played — the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament and the NCAA Division III Championship. He continued his solid play with a 69 at Kearney. "It's nice to have that momentum going," he said.
Morris, who started his round on the back nine, eagled the par-5 18th to get to 4-under. But he couldn't keep it going on the front nine.
"Overall, I'm not disappointed and not excited," he said.
Kristensen, who's from Denmark, also started on the back nine and closed it with four consecutive birdies, including a chip-in at the 16th.
Kristensen has good vibes about Kearney. He and UK teammate Cody Martin won the City Two-Man title here earlier this spring.
Dave Snyder of Somerset, a freshman-to-be at UK, had a first-round 70, as did J.P. Newsome of Pikeville, who plays at Charleston Southern.