LAKE CHARLES, Louisiana – Vince India, Braden Thornberry, George Cunningham and Trace Crowe are tied atop the leaderboard at 9-under after two rounds of the inaugural Lake Charles Championship. For Thornberry, Cunningham and Crowe, Friday marked the first time they earned at least a share of the 36-hole lead in a Korn Ferry Tour event.
India carded a bogey-free 4-under 67 Friday at The County Club at Golden Nugget. India birdied two of his first three holes, the par-4 first and par-5 third, and added two more at the par-5 14th and par-4 18th. The 32-year-old Deerfield, Illinois native who plays from Chicago closed his second round with an 11-foot birdie putt.
“I thought my game around the greens was super solid,” India said. “I put a little bit of work in early on this week. I’m pitching it and chipping it pretty nicely, so when I hit a squirrelly shot with an iron, I let it roll off the shoulder and say, ‘Well, I can go get this up and down.’ That’s been the key this week so far.”
This is India’s eighth consecutive season as a Korn Ferry Tour member, but it is his first with fully exempt status. By virtue of being in the top 75 of the 2020-21 Korn Ferry Tour Regular Season Points List (he was No. 43), India avoided every stage of the Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament for the first time in his career, snapping a streak of appearances which dated back to 2013. On the plus side, India made Final Stage of all seven of those Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournaments from 2013-19, regaining membership on every occasion.
“It just makes for a little less stressful offseason,” India said. “You can stay home and sit on the couch and watch football as long as you want, and you won’t have to worry about going to Mobile, Alabama for Second Stage. If anything, peace of mind, honestly. That helps going into this year.”
Thornberry only posted three pars on his front nine but made four birdies (Nos. 3, 4, 6 and 9) and two bogeys (Nos. 2 and 5). After another bogey at the par-4 10th, Thornberry birdied the par-4 12th, par-5 14th, and closed the round with another at the par-4 18th for a 4-under 67.
Thornberry is in his third season on the Korn Ferry Tour and second consecutive season as a fully exempt member. The Olive Branch, Mississippi resident was co-medalist at Final Stage of the 2019 Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament for fully exempt status last season, and finished 57th on the 2020-21 Korn Ferry Tour Regular Season Points List for fully exempt status this season.
A forming star-studded collegian, Thornberry turned professional and forwent the second half of his senior season at University of Mississippi after he played Final Stage of the 2018 Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament as an amateur and finished T74, good enough for conditional membership. In three and a half seasons at Ole Miss, Thornberry tallied a school-record 11 victories, with the crown jewel being the individual national title at the 2017 NCAA Division I Championships his sophomore season. Thornberry also earned the 2017 Fred Haskins Award, one of three collegiate national player of the year awards, and spent numerous weeks at No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.
“I think I did a really good job of that in college,” Thornberry said of being comfortable playing atop the leaderboard. “I feel like as a pro I just haven’t played great a lot in general. I haven’t been up near the lead a lot since I’ve been on the Korn Ferry Tour. Today I was more comfortable than I was last week.
“You hear people talking about the more you put yourself in that position, and maybe it doesn’t go well this week,” continued Thornberry, who stood solo second after 36 holes of last week’s Chitimacha Louisiana Open presented by MISTRAS. “But hopefully I can keep doing that, keep putting myself in position, and I’ll keep doing better.”
Cunningham, a 26-year-old University of Arizona alum, came out swinging with four birdies in a row and added another at the par-5 ninth. Playing out of Allen, Texas, Cunningham’s birdie at the par-4 10th was negated by a bogey at the par-4 11th. Cunningham closed with seven consecutive pars for a 5-under 66.
“It feels awesome. I think it’s my first 36-hole tie for the lead,” Cunningham said. “I’m pretty excited about it. My ball striking this whole year has been really good. The putting has what’s been the big difference this week compared to the last few weeks.”
Cunningham is in his third season on the Korn Ferry Tour and making his 71st start this week. Despite more missed cuts (26) than weekends played (16) last season, Cunningham logged six top-10s, including a pair of T3s, and finished No. 58 on the regular season points list for fully exempt status this season.
For Crowe, an Auburn University alum, this week marks his third career start in a PGA TOUR-sanctioned event. Crowe previously Monday qualified into a PGA TOUR Canada event last August, and finished T48 earlier this season at the Astara Golf Championship presented by Mastercard.
Crowe birdied six of the final seven holes on the front nine (Nos. 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, and 9) before his only bogey of the day at the par-4 10th. The Charlotte, North Carolina resident birdied the par-5 14th and the final two holes en route to an 8-under 63, the second-lowest round of the day.
“I made a couple putts you don’t usually make,” Crowe said. “I’m really excited to be in the lead in my second start out here. I was in the top 10 after my first two days in Bogota and then finished the last couple of days poorly. This time I’m planning on not getting ahead of myself and keep making birdies. Hopefully that’s enough.”
Zecheng Dou, who began the day in T151 position after a 6-over 77 in the first round, posted the lowest round Friday, carding a 10-under 61 and breaking the course record. Dou climbed all the way to T31 with his stellar second round, which matched his career-low round in PGA TOUR-sanctioned play.
Third-round pairings will run from 7:20 am through 1:45 pm local time off the first tee.