Smith, Unikel Share First-Round Lead at Mid-Amateur October 3, 2015 | Vero Beach, Fla. By Brian DePasquale, USGA

Bryan Smith was one of two players to post 68 on John's Island Club's North Course in the first round of stroke play. (USGA/Chris Keane)

U.S. Mid-Amateur Home

Bryan Smith and Keith Unikel each carded rounds of 68 on Saturday to share the lead after the first day of stroke-play qualifying in the 2015 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at John’s Island Club. Both players shot their scores on the par-71, 6,943-yard North Course. The par-72, 6,855-yard West Course is also being used during the stroke-play portion of the championship.

Smith, 30, of Jay, Vt., made five birdies and two bogeys while competing in his first U.S. Mid-Amateur and second USGA championship. He credited saving par on No. 9 as the key to the round, when he overcame an errant tee shot and hit his fourth shot on the 565-yard, par 5 to within 3 feet.

“It’s a little surreal right now,” said Smith, who twice was a state amateur runner-up and works for a heating contractor. “I know I have the game to compete. I thought there would be some lower scores but at the same time I played well.”

Unikel, 36, of Potomac, Md., overcame a sluggish start when he double-bogeyed the par-4 third. He went on to string together birdies at holes 9 and 10 to get back to even par and finished  with birdies on Nos. 14, 17 and 18.

“I started driving it a lot better on the front nine after my start,” said Unikel, who also qualified for this year’s U.S. Amateur and U.S. Amateur Four-Ball. “Right out of the gate, I wasn’t hitting it on my lines and if you get it in the rough here, you can’t control the ball coming out.”

The U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship consists of 36 holes of stroke play followed by six rounds of match play, with the championship scheduled to conclude with a 36-hole final on Thursday, Oct. 8, starting at 7:30 a.m. EDT.

The U.S. Mid-Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.

Scott Harvey opened defense of his U.S. Mid-Amateur title with a 69 on the West Course. (USGA/Scott A. Miller)

Scott Harvey, the defending Mid-Amateur champion, was among five players who fired 69s and are one back of the leaders. Harvey, 37, of Greensboro, N.C., and Marc Dull, 29, of Lakeland, Fla., shot their scores on the West Course, which will be used as the match-play course for the championship, starting on Monday with the Round of 64.

Neil Trimm, 33, of Madison, Miss.; Reid Hartley, 34, of Hayden Lake, Idaho; and Andrew Price, 33, of Lake Forest, Ill., each shot 69 on the North Course.

Harvey, who defeated Brad Nurski, 6 and 5, to win last year’s title at Saucon Valley Country Club, in Bethlehem, Pa., began his defense by holing a pair of medium-range birdie putts on the first two holes.

One of two mid-amateurs who played on the 2015 USA Walker Cup Team, Harvey vaulted into the lead with an eagle on the par-5 17th hole when he hit his 5-iron approach shot to within 15 feet below the hole.

“That’s the ultimate goal,” said Harvey, when asked about his attempt to become the first repeat champion since Nathan Smith in 2010. “I don’t want to lose and I know what it means to win.”

Dull, who works as a caddie at Streamsong (Fla.) Resort, where he qualified for this championship, found the West Course’s greens similar to his home course and that familiarity helped him shoot a 3-under 33 on the inward nine, including a 10-foot birdie putt on the final hole.

Trimm made birdies on Nos. 12, 13 and 15, his outward nine. After making a bogey on the 464-yard, par-4 sixth, he rebounded with a birdie on the following hole.

“I had one bad driver all day,” said Trimm, who last played in a USGA championship 14 years ago at the 2001 U.S. Amateur. “Keeping it in the short grass here is imperative. The rough is pretty high.”

Matt Parziale was among five players, including 2014 quarterfinalist Denver Haddix, who finished two strokes off the pace with 70s. The 28-year-old firefighter from Brockton, Mass., reached red figures by striking his 9-iron approach at No. 7, his 16th hole, to within 15 feet to set up his second of two birdies.

Kevin Marsh, the 2005 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and a semifinalist the last two years, was alone in the lead at 3-under par through 14 holes on the West Course during the morning wave, but recorded a double bogey and two bogeys at the end of the round to post a 73.

Marsh, 42, of Henderson, Nev., started his slide on the par-5 sixth, his 15th hole, with a wayward tee shot that settled in the rough to the right of the fairway bunker. His next shot found the same bunker and he was unable to get up and down for bogey.

“You don’t have to be that far off to get it into some bad positions,” said Marsh, who has not played much tournament golf this season and admitted to being a little nervous coming down the stretch. “It’s so hard to chip around these greens with the rough the way it is.”

Mike McCoy, the 2013 Mid-Amateur winner and a member of this year’s USA Walker Cup Team, also had a 73. The 52-year-old from Des Moines, Iowa, totaled three birdies and five bogeys on the North Course.

If there is a playoff for the final match-play spots, it will take place on Monday at 7:30 a.m. on the 13th tee. The first match in the Round of 64 is set to start at 9 a.m.

Brian DePasquale is the USGA’s manager of championship communications. Email him at bdepasquale@usga.org