RUMFORD, R.I. -- After hitting his drive on his final hole of the day (No. 9) during Thursday's second round, Jordan Russell was walking down the tee when he heard someone call his name. Looking to his right, he saw his Texas A&M teammate Johannes Veerman, who had just made his way to the nearby No. 1 green to start his round.
“Hey Jordan,” Veerman yelled with a big smile. “Are you sure you’re playing the correct tees?”
The question was understandable. The last time Veerman saw a leaderboard, Russell was 5 under on the day and 11 under for the tournament, just about lapping the field at that early stage of the second round.
While Russell would give back two of those shots coming in on yet another hot and humid New England day, his 3-under 66 gave him a 9-under 139 total and a comfortable lead midway through the 51st Northeast Amateur at Wannamoisett Country Club.
That gave Russell a three-stroke lead over Tim Jackson of Germantown, Tenn., who shot 67-65 and his 6-under 132 is his best 36-hole beginning in 18 Northeast Amateur starts.
Mitch Sutton of Canada and North Carolina State, was another three shots back at 3-under 135 after a 68, while Curtis Thompson, Peter Williamson and mid-ams John Engler and Todd White followed at 136.
Russell’s total ties the tournament’s 36-hole scoring record set by Billy Horschel in 2007.
“I got off to a fast start and overall played pretty solid,” said Russell, whose round consisted of six birdies and three bogeys. “I hit a lot of wedges close, especially on the back side (his front nine). The front is difficult, it always is.”
That certainly has been the case for Russell, who so far is getting a little revenge with the back nine from this final round last year.
In 2011, Russell was 3 under and tied for 11th after three rounds and played the front nine the final day in even par. But he struggled home, shooting 3 over on the back to finish his first Northeast Amateur at even par and tied for 22nd.
This week he has owned the back nine. In his opening round 63, he shot a 5-under 30 on that side and in Thursday’s second round played it in 4-under 31, basically meaning his 9 under total is his score on the back side so far.
“I played the par 3s on the back well, 2 under,” said Russell, who plans to turn pro later this summer after the U.S. Amateur, where he was a semifinalist last year. “I’ve hit a lot of quality shots on the back nine and just really feel comfortable out there for some reason.”
Russell, who was a second-team All-American at Texas A&M as a junior, but struggled a bit this past senior season, said these past two weeks (he tied for fifth at the Texas State Amateur last week) is the best he’s played since reaching the final four at the ‘11 U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills Golf Club in Wisconsin.
“It feels good to be playing well again,” he said. “It was tougher out there today, the pins were tucked, and you had to be on point with your iron shots. Some holes, even with wedges, you couldn’t go for the pins. So right now I’m pretty thrilled with the way I’m playing and where I stand.”
So, too, does Jackson, the oldest player in this year’s starting field at 53. Starting on the 10th hole, he made birdie at 10 and 11 and then 17 and 18, with a bogey at 14. He again made bogey at No. 1, but came back with birdies at 3 and 6.
“I don’t hit it out there with most of these young guys, but I’ve been coming here a long time and I know the golf course, I love the golf course,” Jackson said. “I know where to hit it and how to hit and I think that’s where I have an advantage over some of these guys. My knowledge of the course and especially the greens is a huge plus.”
Jackson said while it was hot, it was not something he wasn’t accustomed to.
“I’m from Tennessee so I’m used to this kind of heat,” said Jackson, who has been low amateur at the U.S. Senior Open the last three years. “For me, though, it’s just been a matter of everything coming together these first two days.”
Jackson’s best finish in this tournament came in 2005 when he tied for fourth at 3-under 273, five shots behind winner Kyle Reifers.