By Brad Ziemer

It was early on his back nine when 14-year-old Cooper Humphreys gave himself a talking to.

“I told myself, get your head into it and start making birdies,” he said after completing his first round in the GolfBC Championship at Gallagher’s Canyon Golf & Country Club.

Apparently, the Grade 8 student at Kelowna’s Aberdeen Hall Preparatory School is a good listener. A short time later, he rattled off two straight birdies and opened the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada event with a respectable five-over 76.

Those birdies came on the fifth and sixth holes at Gallagher’s Canyon, which were Humphreys’ 14th and 15 holes of the day.

“I hit a wedge to like three feet (on No. 5) and made the putt,” he said. “The other one was on the par 5 (No. 6). I hit not a very good chip to 10 feet, but ended up making the putt. It sure felt good to make those birdies.”

Still, Humphreys wasn’t that pleased with his round.

“I am just overall not very happy with it,” he said. “My putting was decent, but my iron play was not good today. But there is always tomorrow.”

Humphreys earned a sponsor’s exemption into the GolfBC Championship by winning the Zone 2 Junior Tour Order of Merit. He found out this past weekend he was in and yes, it’s been on his mind. “I have been thinking about it a lot,” he said. “I was super excited. It was cool, it was super fun. I really enjoyed the day.” Humphreys, who just led Aberdeen Hall to the B.C. High School Single A Golf Championship, had his high school golf coach and Aberdeen Hall teacher, Michael Hooper, as his caddie.

“He kept telling me to stay confident and keep on grinding it out when things got tough,” he said. The diminutive Humphreys still has a lot of growing to do, so he was giving away significant yardage to the rest of the field. “It is actually not that bad,” he said. “The other players have a bit of an advantage, but not a lot. Sometimes they have to hit 3-wood or 3-iron off tees and I can hit driver.”

Humphreys has a late start (2:25 p.m.) in Friday’s second round and hopes to shave a few strokes off his score. “I want to hit more greens in regulation,” he said. “I am going to do a lot of work on the range now on my iron play. Hopefully, I can hit them better tomorrow. I’d like to shoot under-par. Maybe under 70 and have fun.”

Fellow Kelowna resident John Mlikotic, also playing on a sponsor’s exemption, got his tournament off to a solid start. Mlikotic, who spent a few years working inside the Gallagher’s Canyon pro shop and still pulls the occasional shift, opened with a two-under 69. The Simon Fraser University graduate birdied all three of the par 5s at Gallagher’s Canyon.

“I think my score kind of indicated how I played, 69 was probably what I deserved,” said Mlikotic. “I didn’t really steal anything. I made a nice putt on 15. I wasn’t hitting it great, but I was in the right spots and managed my misses well. I kept it all in front of me.”

Richmond amateur Chris Crisologo, playing on a Golf Canada exemption, opened with a three-under 68. The only blemish on Crisologo’s card came when he bogeyed the 18th hole.

“It was just one of those even-keel rounds,” said Crisologo, the current B.C. Amateur champion who has not been happy with his play of late. “It was nice to have one of those after this stretch of golf that I have been through.”