Brendan Steele played flawless, bogey-free golf for 15 holes at the La Quinta Country Club on Thursday, Jan. 16. The Idyllwild native began on the back nine, birdied the par 5-holes, one after another, and stood at 4 under par going into the 168-yard, par-3 7th Hole. Then committed his only mistake. His tee shot to that 7th green flew just a little short and his ball kicked back into the water. One penalty stroke and three shots later he suffered a double bogey 5. It was the only hole he played above par all day.

His putter would not cooperate the whole round. He didn’t putt at all badly, the putts just would not drop. Six hard-luck putts either caressed the cup on the way by or stopped one turn short of going in. His longest successful putt of the day was a six footer on his penultimate hole.

Steele is sporting a new look this season. He has been on a rigorous Russian weight-training program and a high-protein diet. It shows particularly in his arms, which clearly are bigger and stronger this year. He hit almost all of the fairways with drives he consistently pounded well past those of playing partner Ben Crane.

Another item made the news going into the tournament: Steele’s New Zealand caddie, Sam Pinfold, was detained at the airport by U.S. immigration officers and eventually deported back to New Zealand. Apparently, his visa allowed him to work in the United States, but only for a non-American. Steele was quickly able to substitute his old friend and teammate from University of California, Riverside, Will Farish, who currently is an Los Angeles Police Department officer. Farish looped for Steele on Thursday while sporting a day-glow pink wrist cast, necessitated by an injury suffered recently when he had to lay down his motorcycle.

Steele probably will need to have a few more putts drop on tomorrow, Friday, in order to make the cut, which may be as low as 3, 4 or even 5 under par.