By Dalton Balthaser


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PORTSMOUTH, R.I. - Jon Pannone’s last tournament round was one most golfers dream about.


A 61 (11 under) in the final round of the Providence Open at Triggs Memorial Golf Course on July 12 that included 13 birdies that moved him from 40th to tied for fourth..


Pannone, backed by a pure round of iron play and steadfast driving, picked up where he left off and fought off the rain to card a bogey-free 66 in the opening round of the Rhode Island Golf Association Open Championship at Green Valley Country Club (par 71, 6,830 yards) Tuesday.


Play was suspended at 11:05 a.m. due to heavy rain and lightning in the area. It resumed at 12:45 p.m. with steady rain a factor for the remainder of the day.


“The weather delay didn’t cause me any stress because I only had one hole remaining,” said Pannone. “I’d rather be in that situation rather than not having teed off yet.”


The Warwick Country Club member took advantage of a solid opening tee ball by stuffing a 58-degree wedge from 74 yards to eight feet.


He continued his momentum with birdies on Nos. 4 (par 5, 550 yards) and 6 (par 4, 404 yards). Pannone, the owner of Spargo Golf in Cranston, two-putted for birdie on No. 4 and stuffed his trusty 58-degree wedge from 72 yards to 10 feet on No. 6.


“My ball striking was solid,” said Pannone, 32, of Warwick, R.I. “When I hit my first tee shot of the day well, I got into a rhythm. When I am driving the ball well off the tee, the rest of my game falls into place.”


Pannone kept it going on the back nine with birdies on Nos. 12 (par 3, 147 yards) and 18 (par 4, 378 yards). He pulled a 9-iron that worked the contours of the green on No. 12 to funnel back to three feet. The birdie on No. 18 was after the rain delay. He fired a pitching wedge from 116 yards to eight feet to close with a bang.


“I don’t get the amount of time to play and practice like I used to,” said Pannone. “But I will find some time to play nine or hit a bucket before work. I am having more fun playing the game. I have had a lot of confidence in my game recently. I just needed to maintain it.”


Pannone’s recent success has shown his ability to go low at any time. He said he hasn’t had many chances in this event to contend for the title but this will be a great opportunity to do so. 


He’ll be the one with a target on his back come Wednesday for the 18-hole finale. His closest chasers will be Jason Thresher of West Suffield, Conn., Rob LaBritz of Glen Arbor Golf Club in New York and Canada’s Matt Shubley. Each of them shot rounds of 69.


“The last couple of years my game has progressed nicely,” said Pannone. “Especially since now playing in golf tournaments isn’t my only paycheck. It makes tournament golf more fun for me. Now I am going to get out of my wet clothes, head back to the shop, build some clubs and practice.”