LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla. – Brett Coletta and George Cunningham opened the Korn Ferry Tour’s first round of 2021 with matching 8-under 63s – with Albin Choi reaching 8-under thru 17 holes – to co-lead at the LECOM Suncoast Classic. The trio lead Dan McCarthy by one stroke as play was suspended due to darkness at Lakewood National Golf Club’s Commander course. Ten players remained on the course when play was suspended.
In 2020, Choi stepped away from competitive golf to caddie for PGA TOUR star Sungjae Im. Choi was on the bag for Im’s breakthrough win at the 2020 Honda Classic. He returned to competitive golf four months ago and gained entry to the LECOM Suncoast Classic through the Monday qualifier.
“It feels great to be back, just great to be back playing,” smiled Choi, a 28-year-old Canadian. “After caddying, it made me want to go play even more. I got to watch some pretty good golf for a few months and it really inspired me to pick the clubs back up…I was in a bad place mentally and have gone through a lot of stuff over the past year and a half or so. But all of that time off made me realize it wasn’t so bad. I’m just glad to be here.”
Starting at the 10th, Choi birdied his first four holes en route to a front-nine 30 and tacked on three more at Nos. 2, 5 and 8. He hit his drive in the fairway of the par-5 ninth before play was suspended due to darkness. The North Carolina State alum is competing in his first PGA TOUR-sanctioned event since 2019.
Competing in the first tee time of the day, Coletta was 1-over through the first three holes but eagled the drivable par-4 fourth hole after hitting the green and sinking a 30-foot putt. The 24-year-old added three more birdies on the front nine and five more on the back nine (countered by a lone bogey). He capped his day with a 40-foot birdie at the 18th from the front of the green to match his career-low round on Tour.
“I had a read off of Billy [Kennerly] actually on 18 which was quite nice, but it was front edge maybe 40 feet up the hill and down to the right,” said Coletta. “I was going to be happy with a two-putt to be honest, but when it rains it pours I guess.”
The Australian spent the break in Orlando after opting not to go home to Australia amid COVID-19 travel restrictions. The Korn Ferry Tour’s last tournament took place in October at the Orange County National Championship presented by Knight 39.
“I really wanted to go back for Christmas and spend time with the family, but I weighed out my options and decided to stay here,” said Coletta who made just five of 16 cuts in 2020 but capitalized by finishing top-25 in all five of those events. “My offseason was very lowkey; I got into fishing actually…I like to be fresh. I’m not the one to go beat balls on the range. I just kept on top of what I needed to keep on top of.”
Cunningham began his day with five consecutive pars before a birdie at the par-5 sixth hole. After two more pars, Cunningham ripped off seven straight birdies from Nos. 9-15 to reach 8-under. The birdie streak was the best of his life, outpacing his previous best of five consecutive birdies.
“I was in the zone a little bit during that back nine,” laughed Cunningham. “I was a bit nervous to mention the birdie run that I was on. My previous best was five in a row. I knew I was getting close but I didn’t want to say it and jinx it. I was very focused and before I knew it I had it to six in a row and then seven.”
The 25-year-old was having a down season for most of 2020 – including 14 missed straight missed cuts at one point – but finished with back-to-back finishes of T3 and T6 in the final two events before the break. He rose from No. 120 in the standings to 71st after those two top-10 finishes.
“I worked really hard over the offseason; I knew my game was close towards the end of last season so I wanted to capitalize on where I was at,” said Cunningham, who built a golf simulator in his barn during the offseason. “I worked a lot on my golf swing, a little bit on the mental side and of course some on the short game. My long game is what I focused the most on, I gained a little bit of distance and tried to keep the consistency.”
The first round will resume at 7:20 a.m. on Friday morning. Second-round tee times will run from 6:55 a.m. to 2:01 p.m. off of the first and 10th tees on Friday.