Late entry Brandon Hagy opens with 64 at American Express

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Brandon Hagy hits from the 17th tee during the first round of The American Express golf tournament on the Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in La Quinta, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Brandon Hagy didn't find out he was in the field at The American Express until three days before it started. The Californian then left no doubt he belonged.

Hagy took the first-round lead Thursday with an 8-under 64 on the Nicklaus course, staying one shot ahead of South Korea's Byeong Hun An in the opening tournament of the PGA Tour's West Coast swing.

Hagy racked up 10 birdies, including three streaks of three in a row. He capped the round with a calm birdie putt on the 18th.

“I felt like I saw the greens really well, and the last couple of days, I felt like I was putting really well," Hagy said. “Once I started to read them well, I knew if I could just keep doing what I was doing, I'd have a good shot to do something."

Hagy grew up in Westlake Village before his All-America collegiate career in Berkeley. After his early years on tour were interrupted by injuries, he's back to full health — and he has a little extra support at this event from his wife, Jay, and their first child, 5-month-old daughter Hunter.

“There’s nothing better than seeing a smile when you leave to go to the course, and then you get the same smile when you come back,” he said.

Hagy was added to the AmEx field Monday when second-ranked Jon Rahm abruptly dropped out without giving a reason to tour officials. Rahm later said he incurred a minor injury in the gym, but the Spaniard plans to play at Torrey Pines next week.

Hagy might have made it into the field anyway after additional dropouts, but he was still grateful to Rahm, his friend and a collegiate opponent when Rahm played at Arizona State: “I'll have to send him a bottle of wine or something.”