PROVO — Colorado pro Zahkai Brown has a unique name, but he also has some game.
He displayed as much Friday at Riverside Country Club during the first round of the Siegfried and Jensen Utah Open golf tournament.
Brown fired an 8-under-par 64 to grab the first-round lead on the same course where he won the Cougar Classic tournament by three strokes two years ago while he was a collegiate golfer for Colorado State. In fact, Brown played four straight years at the Cougar Classic at Riverside, and his team won three times.
Brown leads 2009 Utah Open champion Nathan Lashley and Houston pro Chase Barnes by one shot and recent University of Utah grad Daniel Engle by two shots heading into Saturday’s second round.
Three Arizona golfers — Ryan Hogue, Kurt Watkins and Jesse Mueller, last year’s runner-up — are tied at 67.
Brown acknowledged he felt very comfortable, not only playing at Riverside, but in Utah because it’s similar to Colorado, where he grew up in Arvada.
“The layout here is very similar to Fort Collins Country Club, where we practiced (at CSU)," Brown said. “There’s the familiarity and the ball travels the same distance. You can take advantage of the par-5s. And the greens were absolutely perfect today.’’
In Friday’s opening round, Brown played the four par-3s best, in 3-under par, including an 18-foot birdie at No. 11 and a near hole-in-one at No. 9, his final hole, when he hit within 1 foot of the hole. He actually birdied just two of the par-5s, getting into some trouble at No. 5 and 15 and settling for pars on those.
With a first name like Zahkai, Brown says he is constantly having to spell it out to others. On the other hand, he’ll never get mistaken for someone else if he ever gets pulled over by a policeman as his mother did several years ago.
He said that’s why his mother gave him his unusual first name as well as his brother Zenon (who is in the tournament and shot a first-round 71) and his sister Zarena. It seems that several years ago his mom was about to be arrested after a routine traffic stop because she had the same name as a criminal.
“They took her into the police station and checked her Social Security number and found they had the wrong person,’’ he said.
At last year’s Utah Open at Oakridge Country Club, Brown opened with a 67 and a second-round 66 put him in a tie for second place. However, a bogey at 15 and a double bogey on the 17th hole on Sunday hurt him and he ended up in a tie for seventh.
Brown has been a successful golfer in the Intermountain region, playing in state opens, such as the Colorado Open, which he won last year by five strokes. He has also been a Monday qualifier in Web.com events and played in last year’s Utah Championship, finishing in a tie for 55th place.
Lashley had the best round of the afternoon wave, going 3-under on the front nine, then finishing strong with birdies at 12, 13, 14 and 17. Barnes had the most birdies on the day, but was hurt by a pair of bogeys.
UTAH OPEN NOTES: Former BYU golfer, PGA regular and 1999 Utah Open champion Dean Wilson and two-time Utah Open champ Clay Ogden lead a group of 11 golfers at 68. ... Two-time PGA Tour winner and ex-BYU golfer Keith Clearwater and defending champion Zach Johnson each shot 71. ... The field will be cut to the low 60 and ties after Saturday’s second round.