Harrell the 49er digs out three-shot lead at midpoint of City championship

Four-time champion Aaron Harrell carded a 4-under 68 during Sunday’s second round of the City tournament at Otis Park.

By Justin Sokeland


BEDFORD – Just imagine if Aaron Harrell and his putter didn’t bicker like an old married couple. If the spark of yesterday ever returns, if the flame rekindles the love story, the Bedford Men’s City Golf Tournament trophy would live happily ever after in his possession.

We’ve seen that connection before, when Harrell was setting Otis Park afire while winning three straight championships to close the last decade. From 2018-20, he shot a combined score of 49-under par – say that again, slowly. Forty-nine under. Won that trio of titles by a combined total of 49 shots. Say that again. Forty-nine strokes. The 49ers were known for digging California gold out of the ground. Harrell is digging for more City gold out of the dirt.

Three years later, Harrell is once again the frontrunner. Even with limited time on the course, even with his short game showing some hints of drop off because of the shelf time, he’s topping the leaderboard at the halfway point of the 2023 edition.

Harrell carded a solid 4-under 68 during Sunday’s second round, finishing 36 holes at 7-under 137 and three shots in front of new challenger Korey Smith. With six more birdies on the scorecard (that’s 12 total thus far, and that’s with some grumbling about the putter), he’s taking dead aim at City history as he chases a fifth title.

Take away a dreaded double on the third hole in Round 2, or give him a mulligan on two three-putt bogeys from the opening round, and he would be gaslighting the field again. However, the short game is the first thing to suffer from dust collecting, so it’s not unusual for the relationship woes to surface on the greens. Like an ignored spouse, the putter needs to be shown some attention once in a while.

Korey Smith tracks a tee shot on the 16th tee. Smith posted his second straight 70.

How can a guy making six birdies a round point at the putter as a problem? Well, perhaps it’s more of an annoyance. Three birdies were on reachable par-5s, one was a chip-in, and his longest make was four feet. Nothing exciting there, just a taken-for-granted round.

“I’ll definitely take it,” Harrell said. “It was just of those days. The putter has not helped a whole bunch, but it does help to have wedges in your hands to hit into greens. Chipping in always helps, you gain strokes on the field when you’re not counting on that. So it was another good day.”

The unexpected chip-in came on the second hole, but that was backed up by the immediate stumble on the third. His tee shot missed the green left by the bunker, finding one of the few bad lies on a pristine, picture-perfect course. But he recovered quickly with back-to-back birdies on holes 5-6, then played the final 10 holes with three routine birdies and no mistakes.

His closest pursuer is the wildcard in the field. Smith, making his City debut, fired another 2-under 70 to maneuver into challenging position. His story is a little remarkable, a former college golfer at Austin Peay and a newcomer to the area who has yet to make 10 tours of Otis. But he’s learning on the fly, as his no-frills second round (three birdies, one bogey) attests.

Once he gets the greens figured out, especially on the back nine, Smith could be a formidable force. His pre-shot routine might look a little funky (a body contortion reminder to use big muscles rather than hands in the swing and avoid a devilish snap-hook) and his grip unorthodox, but it obviously works.

“Off the tee, I have my lines figured out,” Smith said. “I didn’t hit it as solid as I did yesterday, but that’s golf. Shoot 70 one day and hit it solid, shoot 70 the next and not hit it as well.

Zach Terrell is tied for fourth in the field after playing 36 holes in 1-over 145.

“I’m not taking advantage of having wedges in hand. Hopefully next week that’s the case. I feel there’s a 65 out there, and I’ll need one of those next weekend to get it done.”

Smith’s round included birdies on the front-nine par-5s, then his final one on the 12th. His lone bogey came on the 10th (for the second straight day), and he missed some back-nine chances, particularly a 4-footer on the 17th. Right now, that’s the difference in the two leaders. Harrell has played the back in 4-under over 36 holes, while Smith has been 2-over covering the same ground. “The back has been my nemesis,” Smith lamented.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve had competitive juices flowing. It’s kind of new territory all over again. If you had seen my swing six months ago, it would have haunted you for life.“

Of course, there’s 36 holes ahead. And there are other characters in the drama. Ethan Stanley, who has made multiple appearances near the top of the board, matched Harrell for the best round of the second day with a 4-under 68 that left him five shots back at 142. Ken Steward posted three birdies during an even-par 72 to finish two days at 145 (along with Zach Terrell after his 71-74 scores). And former champion Craig Reiner posted a second-day 70 with five birdies to make the Championship Flight.

Harrell is looking to become the fifth five-time winner in City history.

“Any time you’re in the lead, you’ll take it,” Harrell said. “I do not expect to do this again next weekend, but if I do, I will take it. I just appreciate that I do play this well. I just want to go out there to have fun, talk to people and enjoy the day.”

Making six birdies makes it enjoyable, and that splurge has not gone unnoticed, even by those who are unfamiliar with Otis history.

“If he can do that once,” Smith said, referring to the 22-under winning score of 2018 that he has already heard about, “it’s still in there. I know I can’t let him come back to me.”

The third round is set for Saturday, with the leaders scheduled to begin at 10:40 a.m. The final round is set for July 16.

Ken Steward carded three birdies while shooting 72 in the second round.